Medical Futility

Medical Futility

Basically, serious diseases patients suffer from often evoke serious ethical dilemmas which often involve the approaches to the treatment of patients. In this respect, the futility treatment is one of the arguable issues since it evokes certain contradiction between basic ethical norms and principles accepted in the healthcare system and the effectiveness of the treatment. In such a situation, it is very difficult for a physician to take a decision concerning the treatment, at least, without discussing this treatment with the family of the patient.
In actuality, the futility treatment may be applied to patients, which state is unlikely to improve. Moreover, physicians use the futility treatment only cases when there is no hope for the positive changes in the state of a patient. The essence of this treatment is viewed by many specialists (Limentani, 1999) as unethical. Moreover, in a way, it is possible to compare the futility treatment to euthanasia, but, unlike euthanasia, the futility treatment does not involve active intervention of a physician to end the life of a patient, instead, it does not encourage, nor speed the natural onset of death (Limentani, 1999).
At first glance, such a treatment seems to be ethically acceptable because physicians do not undertake any actions that can lead to the death of the patient. On the other hand, it is necessary to underline the fact that physicians do not conduct active treatment that can improve the state of the patient consistently. Such an approach to the treatment of patients is severely criticized (Limentani, 1999), but it is possible to justify the futility treatment by the fact that the treatment of patients, to which the futility treatment is applied, is useless because any treatment cannot help such patients or save their life.
In such a context, a paradoxical arguments opposing to the futility treatment may arise since, some opponents of this treatment argue that it prolongs sufferings of patients (Benoff & Grauman, 1997). In actuality, such a view on the futility treatment is not absolutely correct because, objectively speaking, there is no effective alternative to this treatment. Obviously, the treatment targeting at the consistent improvement of the state of the patient will be either useless or will even prolong sufferings of patients even more. On the other hand, the only alternative that can shorten sufferings of patients is euthanasia, which is even more unacceptable from ethical point of view.
In such a situation, the question concerning decision makers arise. In fact, it is obvious that a physician cannot take such a decision independently from members of the family of the patient because they have legal and moral rights to take decisions concerning the treatment. If a physician takes a decision to start the futility treatment independently from the family of the patient, he actually takes a decision which concerns the question of the life and death of the patient that naturally involves close relatives of the patient.
Thus, it is possible to conclude that the futility treatment can be used in the most hopeless cases, but the decision should be taken by the physician and the family of the patient.

References:
Benoff, M., & Grauman, D. M. (1997). Mastering the physician integration challenge. Healthcare Financial Management; Westchester; Jan 1997.
Limentani, A. E. (1999, October). The role of ethical principles in health care and the implications for ethical codes. Journal of Medical Ethics 25 (5), 394-399.
Ascension Health (2005). Key Ethical Principles. Retrieved on
November 17, 2007, from http://www.ascensionhealth.org/ethics/public/key_principles/main.asp
Kellog Library (2003). Bioethics - Introduction and Definition.
Retrieved on November 17, 2007, from http://www.library.dal.ca/kellogg/Bioethics/definition.htm.
St. James Ethics Center (2006). Ethical Dilemmas of the Month.
Retrieved on November 17, 2007, from
http://www.ethics.org.au/things_to_do/dilemma_of_the_month/