DESPITE YEARS of debate by bioethicists about the concept of medical futility, until now no one has tried to assess the reactions of patients with serious illness to its application.1 One reason may be that this type of study is technically difficult to perform. Outcome variables are hard to define, consistent data difficult to gather, and interview questionnaires hard to validate. Another reason is difficulty with the definition of futility. Withholding futile treatments supports the ethical principles of both nonmaleficence (do no harm) and beneficence (relieve suffering).
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