Bioethics Blogs

The Need for an Effective Process to Resolve Conflicts Over Medical Futility: A Case Study and Analysis

Michael D. Dahnke

The December issue of Critical Care Nurse includes a good basic overview of basic approaches to preventing and resolving medical futility conflicts over non-beneficial treatment.  


“The issue of medical futility requires a well-defined process in which both sides of the dispute can be heard and a resolution reached in a fair and ethical manner. Procedural approaches to medical futility cases provide all parties involved with a process-driven framework for resolving these disputes.”


“Medical paternalism or the belief in the absolute rightness of the medical model will not serve to resolve these disputes. Although medical futility is first determined by medicine, in order for the determination to meet legal criteria, it must be subject to review. The hope is that through a review process that meets legal criteria, the issue can be resolved without the need for court proceedings. If resolution cannot be obtained through this process, surrogates still have the right to seek court intervention.”


“This issue is of relevance and importance in critical care nursing because of the role and position of critical care nurses, who have direct contact with patients and patients’ families, the potential for moral distress in cases of possibly futile treatment, and the expanding roles of nurses, including critical care nurses and advanced practice nurses, in management and policy development.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.