A preliminary analysis of medical futility decisionmaking: law and professional attitudes

Behav Sci Law. Autumn 1998;16(4):497-508. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1099-0798(199823)16:4<497::aid-bsl315>3.0.co;2-w.


Judicial decisions reviewed in this article indicate that courts have taken two disparate approaches to disputes over futility of treatment. To explore whether a consensus on medical futility is developing among hospitals, the authors conducted a nationwide survey of health care professionals at hospitals. Respondents assigned importance ratings to factors used in recent futility decisions made at their institutions. The resulting importance ratings showed significant variation by characteristics of the institution (comparing respondents from for-profit, not-for-profit, and government hospitals) and by profession of the respondent (comparing physicians and nurses). The respondents' judgments endorsed three distinct strategies for making futility decisions (i.e., emphasis on the patient's decision preferences, providing for the patient and family, and adhering to objective medical and social norms).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Decision Making*
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Life Support Care / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Medical Futility*
  • Personnel, Hospital / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States