Critical care nurses are essential members of the health care team and often assist patients and patients’ families who are facing end-of-life concerns. In that role, a nurse needs an understanding of many important factors, including legal implications associated with the end of life. Since the 1970s, courts have decided several cases that have established legal principles in end-of-life care. Courts have found that competent adults have the right to refuse or discontinue medical interventions. For incompetent adults and children, decisions are made by a surrogate. In the absence of an advance directive or documentation of goals of care, the surrogate, in collaboration with the medical team, determines a plan of care, including decisions about end-of-life care. When issues of medical futility occur, attempts to work with patients and their families should be undertaken, but if the dispute cannot be resolved, a transfer in care may be the only option.

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