Bioethics Blogs

Why Doctors Treat the Dying, Even When They Know It’s Futile

If a patient is dying, and you know treatment won’t help, do you still treat anyway?

Professor Lindy Willmott, from the Australian Centre for Health Law Research, set out to discover why most doctors still do. She reported research results at the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) conference this week.

Willmott carried out a survey of 96 doctors and medical staff in Queensland public hospitals to help understand why unnecessary treatment was happening.

Here are a few of the responses:

“Doctors felt it difficult to not offer something because it made them feel as if they weren’t doing their job.” 

“The default is to keep treating.” 

“You do a procedure because it can be done, even if it doesn’t change the outcome.” 

“Doctors who are under time pressure might find that [continuing treatment] is the path of least resistance.”

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.