Medical futility occurs when a treatment that does not have reasonable benefits to a patient needs to be performed. Medical futility has been defined in quantitative, qualitative as well as physiological terms. Qualitative measures cater to the quality of a patient’s life through determining its improvement using futile treatment. Quantitatively, the probability of a patient’s survival is determined and treatment is not given if the chances of survival are low. Patients or physicians are the ones who request futile treatment. There have been arguments among patients, families, and physicians as to which treatments should be regarded as futile and those that shouldn’t. The solution is obtained when patients are provided with data that show the futility of the treatment.
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According to (Dunn, 1994) Futility is the effort applied in the achievement of possible result which is suggested to be highly improbable or unreasonable. Medically, futility is a therapy that is not supposed to be carried out when data available shows no improvement will occur in the medical condition of the patient. Medical futility definition is ethically controversial as there is no specific description of futile treatments.
However, (Snyder, 1999) argues that medical futility covers treatments that do not have a useful purpose in the patient’s body. Medical futility has three elements that define its operations; the desired goal, action to assist in attaining the goal, and certainty of the action’s failure to achieve that goal.
Ethical Implications of Futility in the Context of Resource Allocation
According to (Lofmark, 2002), the developed countries have resource allocation to cater for medical futility where the governments, as well as individuals, plan for such cases. Government allocates a specified amount of money to health care departments for taking care of futility. Most of these funds are gathered from premiums paid on monthly basis by employed people who assist the health care plan to deliver services to patients.
However, it is not known how much money or resources are allocated to each patient even those undergoing futile treatments since resources are shared according to patients’ needs but not on the basis of the amount contributed. Therefore neither the patients nor doctors know the exact cost encountered in the treatment of a particular patient. Research emphasizes the need to make patients and physicians aware of the cost of futile treatments.
Parties Involved In Making the Decision on What Constitutes Futile Treatment
(Aulisio, 2004), states that, there are cases where patients and/or their families may request futile treatment without their knowledge hence involving them in the discussion involving whether it is futile or not. Their request may be based on the beliefs and values about health care as well as disease that form a crucial component of the patient’s body. According to (Arnold, 2000), these requests would help them have peace in their mind and would therefore be curious to know the kind of interventions and testing available as well as their limits.
However, it is advisable that a physician intervenes in the decision of whether a treatment is futile or not since they have the better medical knowledge to make a decision compared with the patients (Walter, 1998). This could be done by providing a patient with information that either supports or is against futile treatment in the attempt to convince the patient. If the patient insists on having such kind of treatment, then counseling should be provided to make them understand since most of them ask for futile treatments while in desperate situations. (Koch, 2000) argues that, as much as a final decision on whether treatment is futile or not should be given by the physician, it is important that families and patients are provided with accurate, frequent, and current prognostic estimates of data to help them understand.
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However, it has been noted that some physicians declare a treatment to be futile without the knowledge of data that depict the relevant outcome. Such actions are very harmful to patients since they may be denied treatment that would improve their medical condition.
Dunn P. (1994): Medical Ethics: Am Coll Physicians.
Snyder L, (1999): The Battle Ground of Medical Futility: Am Coll Physicians.
Lofmark R. (2002): Conditions and Consequences of Medical Futility: Inst Med Ethics.
Aulisio M. (2004): Ethics and Palliative Care Consultation In the intensive care unit: Elsevier.
Walter J. (1998): Educating for Professionalism Clinical Cases: Am med Assoc.
Koch T. (2000): Life Quality Vs the Quality of life: Elsevier.
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Arnold R. (2000): Health Care Ethics Consultation: Am Coll Physicians.