Futile, Non-beneficial, Potentially Inappropriate or ‘Disputed’ Treatment

In N. Emmerich, P. Mallia, B. Gordijn, & F. Pistoia (Eds.), Contemporary European Perspectives on the Ethics of End of Life Care (pp. 181-198). (Philosophy and Medicine ; Vol. 136), 2020

Posted: 15 Aug 2020

See all articles by Ben White

Ben White

Queensland University of Technology - Faculty of Law

Lindy Willmott

Queensland University of Technology - Faculty of Law

Eliana Close

Queensland University of Technology

Date Written: 2020

Abstract

This chapter examines the concept of futility in end-of-life decision-making. The term is generally used to describe the situation where the clinical treating team consider potentially life-sustaining treatment should not be provided. But the term ‘futility’ is a vexed one. Alternative terminology has been proposed such as ‘non-beneficial’ or ‘potentially inappropriate’ treatment. We contribute to these debates by offering another term – ‘disputed treatment’ – albeit one more limited in its application to where there is a disagreement about treatment. The chapter then traces key debates in the literature including attempts to define the term futility conceptually, and later empirically. A more recent body of work has also proposed a procedural approach to resolving futility disputes. Unsurprisingly, given the subjectivity of this concept, all of these approaches have been critiqued and these objections are considered. The chapter also considers the value of a concept like futility and its relationship with the distinct issue of health rationing. A final contribution is to offer an alternative approach to disputes about treatment that challenges the idea that futility decisions are ones for doctors, but also constrains the power of patients and substitute decision-makers to demand treatment.

Keywords: futility, futile treatment, non-beneficial treatment, potentially inappropriate treatment, end-of-life decision-making

JEL Classification: I1, I10, I18, K3, K32

Suggested Citation

White, Ben and Willmott, Lindy and Close, Eliana, Futile, Non-beneficial, Potentially Inappropriate or ‘Disputed’ Treatment (2020). In N. Emmerich, P. Mallia, B. Gordijn, & F. Pistoia (Eds.), Contemporary European Perspectives on the Ethics of End of Life Care (pp. 181-198). (Philosophy and Medicine ; Vol. 136), 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3632584

Ben White (Contact Author)

Queensland University of Technology - Faculty of Law ( email )

Level 4, C Block Gardens Point
2 George St
Brisbane, QLD 4000
Australia

HOME PAGE: http://staff.qut.edu.au/staff/whiteb/

Lindy Willmott

Queensland University of Technology - Faculty of Law ( email )

Level 4, C Block Gardens Point
2 George St
Brisbane, QLD 4000
Australia

HOME PAGE: http://staff.qut.edu.au/staff/willmott/

Eliana Close

Queensland University of Technology ( email )

2 George Street
Brisbane, Queensland 4000
Australia

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