Bioethics Blogs

Should Physicians Provide Futile Treatment?

Should Physicians Provide Futile Care?  This is the question posed in a recent blog post over at MD Whistleblower.


When framed in this way, it seems the answer should be “no.”  Indeed, the 2015 Five Society Policy Statement supports this position when the term “futile” is used correctly. The problem is that the term “futile” is often not used correctly.  It is frequently used to refer to a far wider range of things.


Take the very post at MD Whistleblower.  He makes an argument against providing “futile” care.  But in the course of his argument, look at the wide range of concepts cited:

  1. “no medical treatment to offer”
  2. “won’t work”
  3. “most appropriate option”
  4. “won’t help”
  5. “third party is usually paying”
  6. “extremely unlikely to offer benefit”
  7. “right thing to do”

Pursuant to the 2015 Five Society Policy Statement, only the first two concepts above correspond to true “futility.”  The other five suggest the surrogate-requested interventions might work.  Whether or not that probability is high enough or whether the outcome is worthwhile are value judgments, not scientific/medical judgments.  They are not about “futility” but about appropriateness.


Should physicians provide “futile” treatment?  No.  But first make sure that the treatment at issue really is “futile.”  

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.