Medline ® Abstract for Reference 78
of 'Palliative care: Medically futile and potentially inappropriate therapies of questionable benefit'
Beyond the futility argument: the fair process approach and time-limited trials for managing dialysis conflict.
Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2013 Nov;8(11):2000-6. Epub 2013 Jul 18.
Futility is an ancient concept arising from Greek mythology that was resurrected for its medical application in the 1980s with the proliferation of many lifesaving technologies, including dialysis and renal transplantation. By that time, the domineering medical paternalism that characterized the pre-1960s physician-patient relationship morphed into assertive patient autonomy, and some patients began to claim the right to demand aggressive, high-technology interventions, despite physician disapproval. To counter this power struggle, the establishment of a precise definition of futility offered hope for a futility policy that would allow physicians to justify withholding or withdrawing treatment, despite patient and family objections. This article reviews the various attempts made to define medical futility and describes their limited applicability to dialysis. When futility concerns arise, physicians should recognize the opportunity to address conflict, using best practice communication skills. Physicians would also benefit from understanding the ethical principles of respect for patient autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, justice, and professional integrity that underlie medical decision-making. Also reviewed is the use of a fair process approach or time-limited trial when conflict resolution cannot be achieved. These topics are addressed in the Renal Physician Association's clinical practice guideline Shared Decision-Making in the Appropriate Initiation and Withdrawal from Dialysis, with which nephrologists should be well versed. A case presentation of intractable calciphylaxis in a new dialysis patient illustrates the pitfalls of physicians not fully appreciating the ethics of medical decision-making and failing to use effective conflict management approaches in the clinical practice guideline.
University of Minnesota Medical School, HealthPartners/Regions Hospital Section of Nephrology, St. Paul, Minnesota.