When medical treatment is futile

Futility cases … when doctors believe further medical treatment is futile and yet the patient’s family asks for treatment beyond palliative care … are nerve-wracking: “For most doctors, these cases present a crisis of conscience. How can we obey a central pillar of our profession — to do no harm — when we are forced to provide treatment that will only prolong suffering?” In “It’s Not Just about the ‘Quality of Life,’ ” Sandeep Jauhar sugguests: “Embracing the ethic of social justice can help us out of this morass. Social justice in medicine promotes the allocation of limited resources to maximize societal benefit.”

Descartes, Aristotle, and Terri Schiavo

Did Descartes doom Terri Schiavo?  “The plea … to prolong Ms. Schiavo’s feeding, against the wishes of her husband or what courts determined to be her own expressed inclinations, echoed the teachings of Aristotle, who considered existence itself to be inviolable. On the other side, the argument that Ms. Schiavo’s life could be judged as not worth living echoed Descartes, the Enlightenment philosopher who defined human life not as biological existence – which might be an inviolable gift from God – but as consciousness, about which people can make judgments.”