Futile treatment can be casually defined as treatment that fails to benefit the patient as a whole (Luce). Such medical intervention can be seen in many forms, such as treating an individual who is of old age and has very little time to live regardless of any medical treatment, as well as using a treatment that has been seen to have little to no benefit to patients in the past (Schneiderman). The debate on futile care starts with how to properly define it, and then continues to be controversial when deciding who gets to make the call on if a treatment is futile and how they arrive at that conclusion.
Futile medical treatment can be seen as an ethical issue from all perspectives: the patient, the physician, as well as society as a whole. Although there has not yet been a resolution of the issue of implementing futile care by case law or a legal statute, the avoidance of futile treatment is supported by ethical principle (Luce). Based on the Utilitarian theory of ethics, which bases ethical decisions on the consequences they will lead to and creating the greatest surplus of happiness, the most ethical approach to the issue of futile medical treatment is to refrain from it. This practice would create the most happiness for all beneficiaries, the patient, physician, and public.
The ethical dilemma of medical futility can be seen dating back to the times as long ago as the fifth-century with physicians such as Hippocrates (Jecker). As technology continues to develop faster than our laws and standards can keep up with, the issue of how to properly administer treatment that may be considered futile becomes more and more pressing in the medical and ethical communities. As of late, physicians have...
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... is irreversible. Therefore, if physicians ceased to use expensive medical treatments near the end of the patient’s life, their autonomy would be better respected (Emanuel). This idea that limiting care respects self-autonomy is also supported by one study done by William B. Weeks MD of sixty-six patients that had prepared advanced directives. Only thirteen of these patients expressed their interest in receiving terminal care. This study concluded that the majority of patients who had considered what they wished for the end of their lives, that the majority did not wish to receive life-sustaining care that would prolong their lives for a short period of time, and therefore refuse futile or unbeneficial treatment (Weeks). Refraining from using futile medical treatment would therefore generate the greatest surplus of happiness by respecting the wishes of the patients.
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