Skip to main content

Futility

  • Reference work entry
  • First Online:
Encyclopedia of Global Bioethics
  • 295 Accesses

Abstract

Medical futility has been used increasingly by physicians to refer to the inappropriate application of medical intervention that is unlikely to produce any significant benefit for the patient. However, the concept of medical futility is controversial not only in its definition but also in its application. Decisions regarding end-of-life care in general and medical futility in particular are shaped by the inevitability of human death, limitations of medical sciences, scarcity of health resources, and various sociocultural issues.

In everyday clinical practice, physicians are under pressure to make decision about futile treatment and in some cases, there are disagreements between healthcare providers and patients’ family about the course of treatment deemed futile. The issue has divided experts in the relevant fields into two groups. The proponents of medical futility defend the physician’s exclusive right to determine the futility of treatment and decide whether treatment should be withheld or withdrawn. On the other hand, opponents believe that a discourse of power lies at the heart of the futility debate.

By elaborating the concept and controversy over medical futility, this entry presents a global review of the current approaches to the futility debate. It also examines different futility policy options and explains how futility policy can help healthcare professionals as well as family members to decide how aggressively to treat patients and when it is morally permissible to withhold or withdraw futile treatments.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Chapter
USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
eBook
USD 1,799.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Hardcover Book
USD 1,999.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

References

  • American Thoracic Society. (1991). Withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining therapy. Annals of Internal Medicine, 115(6), 478–485.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bagheri, A. (Ed.). (2013). Medical futility: A cross-national study. London: Imperial College Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bagheri, A. (2014). Medical futility: Is a policy needed? Journal of Clinical Research and Bioethics, 5, e102. doi:10.4172/2155-9627.1000e102 (Editorial).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bagheri, A., Asai, A., & Ida, R. (2006). Experts’ attitudes towards medical futility: An empirical survey from Japan. BMC Medical Ethics, 7, 8. doi:10.1186/1472-6939-7-8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bernheim JL, Vansweevelt T, Annemans L. (2013). Medical Futility and End of Life Issue in Belgium. In AlirezaBagheri.ed. Medical Futility: A Cross-National Study. Imperial College Press. London, pp. 59–84.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brody, H. (1994). The physician’s role in determining futility. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 42, 875–878, also see Brody, H. (1992). The healer’s power (pp. 175–176). Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Callahan, D. (1991). Medical futility, medical necessity: The-problem-without-a name. Hastings Center Report, 21, 30–35.

    Google Scholar 

  • Callahan D. (2013). Is the Futility Debate Futile. In Alireza Bagheri.ed. Medical Futility: A Cross-National Study. Imperial College Press. London.

    Google Scholar 

  • Martin D. (2013). Medical Futility in Australia. In Alireza Bagheri. (ed). Medical Futility: A Cross-National Study. Imperial College Press. London pp.119–144

    Google Scholar 

  • Pellegrino, E. (2005). Futility in medicine decisions: The word and the concept. HEC Forum, 17(4), 308–318.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rubin, S. B. (1998). When doctors say no, the battleground of medical futility (pp. 88–91). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schneiderman, L. J., & Jecker, N. S. (2011). Wrong medicine: Doctors, patients, and futile treatment (2nd ed.). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Scneiderman, L. J., Jecker, N. S., & Jonsen, A. R. (1990). Medical futility: Its meaning and ethical implications. Annals of Internal Medicine, 112, 949–954.

    Google Scholar 

  • Taylor, C. (1995). Medical futility and nursing. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 27(4), 301–306.

    Google Scholar 

  • Truog, R. D., & Mitchell, C. (2006). Futility: From hospital policies to state laws. American Journal of Bioethics, 6(5), 19–21. doi:10.1080/15265160600858989.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Van Delden, J. (1993). Deciding not to resuscitate in Dutch hospital. Journal of Medical Ethics, 19, 200–205.

    Google Scholar 

  • Veatch, R. M. (2013). So-called futile care: The experience of the United States. In A. Bagheri (Ed.), Medical futility: A cross-national study. London: Imperial College Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wojtasiewicz, M. E. (2006). Damage compounded: Disparities, distrust, and disparate impact in endof-life conflict resolution policies. American Journal of Bioethics, 6(5), 8–12. doi:10.1080/15265160600856801.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Further Readings

  • Bagheri, A. (Ed.). (2013). Medical futility: A cross-national study. London: Imperial College Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rubin, S. B. (1999). When doctors say no: The battleground of medical futility. Indiana: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schneiderman, L. J., & Jecker, N. S. (2011). Wrong medicine: Doctors, patients, and futile treatment (2nd ed.). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zucker, M. B., & Zucker, H. D. (Eds.). (1997). Medical futility: And the evaluation of life-sustaining interventions. Ney York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alireza Bagheri .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2016 Springer International Publishing Switzerland

About this entry

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this entry

Bagheri, A. (2016). Futility. In: ten Have, H. (eds) Encyclopedia of Global Bioethics. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-09483-0_204

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics