HEC Forum

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 91-98

First online:

Handling Cases of ‘Medical Futility’

  • Colleen M. GallagherAffiliated withSection for Integrated Ethics in Cancer Care, Unit 1430, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Email author 
  • , Ryan F. HolmesAffiliated withSt. Louis University

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Medical futility is commonly understood as treatment that would not provide for any meaningful benefit for the patient. While the medical facts will help to determine what is medically appropriate, it is often difficult for patients, families, surrogate decision-makers and healthcare providers to navigate these difficult situations. Often communication breaks down between those involved or reaches an impasse. This paper presents a set of practical strategies for dealing with cases of perceived medical futility at a major cancer center.


Medical futility Ethics consultation End of life Beneficial and non-beneficial treatment