Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Extraordinary Life-Sustaining Treatment Definition:

Extraordinary medical procedures to temporarily replace or supplement failing and essential bodily functions.

Related Terms: Heroic Measures, Passive Euthanasia, Terminal Condition

An alternative to the term heroic measures, extraordinary measures (see below) or extraordinary medical procedures as within the context of medical-legal decisions.

The legal term is key to end-of-life documents such as living wills in that the patient often asks that when death comes at an elderly age, to let it come peacefully and to not engage in heroic measures or extraordinary life-sustaining treatment to attempt to avoid the coming of death.

Authors Leng and Sy present a comprehensive description in their 1997 article on the statutes of Singapore

"Extraordinary life-sustaining treatment is defined as any medical procedure or measure which, when administered to a terminally ill patient, will only prolong the process of dying when death is imminent, but excludes palliative care.

"Examples are ventilators to take over natural breathing or  cardiopulmonary resuscitation to keep the heart beating where such treatment would only serve to postpone the moment of death. However, dialysis, resuscitation, blood transfusion
or tube feeding will not normally fall within the definition but ... measures which could be considered ordinary in the case of a curable patient could be extraordinary in the context of a terminally ill patient."

end of life word cloud

The 1983 Natural Death Act of South Australia defined extraordinary measures as follows:

"Extraordinary measures means medical or surgical measures that prolong life, or are intended to prolong life, by supplanting or maintaining the operation of bodily functions that are temporarily or permanently incapable of independent operation."

Note these words of wisdom of Justice Hughes of the Supreme Court of New Jersey in Re Quinlan:

".... one would have to think that the use of the same respirator or like support could be considered 'ordinary' in the context of the possibly curable patient but '"extraordinary' in the context of the forced sustaining by cardio-respiratory processes of an irreversibly doomed patient."


  • Leng, Ter Kah and sy, Susanna Leong Huey, Advanced Medical Directives in Singapore, 5 Med. L. Rev. 63 (1997)
  • Natural Death Act, 1983, No. 121 of 1983, South Australia
  • Re Quinlan, 355 A. 2d 647 (1976)

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