Pipes, Colanders, and Leaky Buckets: Reflections on the Futility Debate
Paris, John J.
Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics. 1993 Spring; 2(2): 147-149.
The issue of physician refusal of requested treatment has fueled a two-pronged debate in our society -- one on the meaning of futility and the other on the limits of patient autonomy. The latter is a genuinely philosophic dispute; the former, it seems, is a modern relapse into nominalism. It is not the meaning of the word, but the moral basis for the actions of the participants that should be the focus of our attention....The history of the futility debate, which was launched by a 1983 study of Bedell and Delbanco that demonstrated the ineffectiveness of CPR for certain categories of patients, has been documented elsewhere. Here we will inquire if the term, and its rapid intrusion into the medical lexicon, serves a useful purpose or if, as Truog suggested, we would all be better off if this new buzzword were jettisoned....
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