When Families Request That 'Everything Possible' Be Done

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 20 (2):145-163 (1995)

The paper explores the ethical and psychological issues that arise when family members request that “everything possible” be done for a particular patient. The paper first illustrates this phenomenon by reviewing the well known case of Helga Wanglie. We proceed to argue that in Wanglie and similar cases family members may request futile treatments as a means of conveying that (1) the loss of the patient is tantamount to losing a part of themselves; (2) the patient should not be abandoned or disvalued in any way; or (3) the patient is owed special obligations by virtue of the special relationship in which the family and the patient stand. We maintain that families can best express these important messages by caring for patients, rather than by making requests for futile interventions. Likewise, when life-sustaining measures are futile, health providers can best fulfill their professional obligations by assuring patients' dignity and comfort, rather than by applying futile interventions
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DOI 10.1093/jmp/20.2.145
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