Futilitarianism: knowing how much is enough in end-of-life health care

Dunphy, K.
July 2000
Palliative Medicine;Jul2000, Vol. 14 Issue 4, p313
Academic Journal
The concept of futility is frequently invoked by doctors as providing ethical justification for the unilateral witholding/withdrawal of treatment of marginal benefit. The term now appears in many institutional policies. Yet it provokes controversy in its application, often being characterized as an unwarranted infringement of patient autonomy. This paper explores the substance of assertions of futility and attempts to dissect out the issues commonly intertwined in appeals to the concept. An ethical analysis of its component parts is presented using a principle-based approach to derive appropriate duties of care applicable in specific scenarios. The usefulness of the concept of futility is challenged and an alternative model is offered to deal with the ethical dilemmas posed by the availability of treatments of marginal benefit.


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