Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Futile Care

We discussed futile care in our ethics class today. Apparently we, physicians, are ethically obligated to provide futile treatment (e.g. ventilating a brain dead patient) if the patient or their family want to continue treatment. The justification behind continuing treatment is that the treatment provides psychological benefits for the patient's family.

In a world with limitless resources, I can understand this justification. However, in the REAL world, we already have tremendous hospital wait times and not enough beds for our patients. Keeping a patient "alive" (I use quotation marks because we don't know how alive a brain dead patient truly is) means there is one less bed and fewer resources for another patient. Thus, by delaying the inevitable passing of one patient, we are prolonging the suffering of another.

Obviously, the ethical issues in this scenario are not clear cut. The family of the brain dead patient may think that they are getting air access to health care if their physician decides to terminate treatment because it is futile. Also, what if the physician is wrong (it's been known to happen) and the treatment isn't futile? Or what if you can keep the patient alive for another year, and within that time a new technology is developed that can heal the patient?

There are many interesting dilemnas involved in futile care...I wonder how my experiences through my medical training will change my views on the issue...

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