In the Literature
May 2000

Defining Futility?

Faith Lagay, PhD
Virtual Mentor. 2000;2(5):39. doi: 10.1001/virtualmentor.2000.2.5.jdsc1-0005.


Youngner SJ. Who defines futility? JAMA. 1988;260(14):2094-2095.

Questions for Discussion

Many patients and their families take "futility" to be synonymous with deliberately failing to provide appropriate care. But just because aggressive treatment is discontinued, or is not elevated, does not mean that appropriate treatment, consistent with the standard of care, is not being given to the patient.

  1. Is there a definition of the term that can move beyond the confusion and help physicians and patients alike to achieve a mutual understanding of treatments that are in patients' best interests?
  2. Or should we simply cease to use "futility"? Explain.


Virtual Mentor. 2000;2(5):39.



The viewpoints expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.