From Futility to Triage

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 20 (2):191-205 (1995)
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Basic disagreements about what makes human life valuable hinder use of the concept of futility to decide whether it is appropriate to continue life support for one in a permanent state of unconsciousness, or to provide intensive medical care to one in the last stages of a terminal illness (the “paradigm cases”). Triage planning (the process of establishing criteria for health care prioritization) is an attractive alternative framework for addressing the paradigm cases. Triage planning permits society to see the cases in the context of diverse moral perspectives, limited resources, and competing health care demands. Furthermore, at least one essential question posed by the paradigm cases is whether treatment is wasteful, and triage planning is a useful model for identifying and eliminating wasteful medical care. The authors describe how triage planning can be implemented to address the paradigm cases, and conclude that it offers one way of moving debate about these cases beyond futility



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