Futility disputes are more likely to be resolved—and relational breaches repaired—by engaging in a process that fosters communication between clinicians, patients, and families. This essay calls for mediative fluency. The preemptive use of a futility definition can stifle conversation when it is needed most, exacerbating the very power imbalances and associated health disparities that often precipitate futility disputes. When clinicians, patients, and families engage in dialogue, clinicians can appreciate what motivates requests for what is thought to be futile care, and patients and families can better understand the limits of available therapies. This sharing of knowledge, values, and attitudes cannot be achieved through the unilateral invocation of a futility definition. Furthermore, futility definitions are prone to interpretative judgment by clinicians and can be informed by the norms and attitudes attendant to a practitioner’s medical specialty. They also need to be interpreted in the context of emerging trends in medical therapeutics and in relation to the clinical details of each case. In the aggregate, these challenges make the application of a futility definition futile.


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pp. 373-382
Launched on MUSE
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