I'm an ICU nurse. Recently, I cared for a young man who'd attempted suicide with a shotgun. He wasn't likely to survive for long with his massive head injuries, yet his distraught parents insisted that "everything" be done for him. Some of the care team members felt we should provide only comfort care; others felt we should do everything possible to keep him alive until his family could accept his death. What's the ethical way to handle this kind of situation?-W.R., PA.
Is providing medically futile treatment ever justified? This issue is always complex. Sometimes family members ask healthcare professionals to do everything possible to keep a loved one alive until a family member can reach the bedside. But these requests, however impassioned, must always be balanced against other ethical considerations, such as the acceptable use of healthcare resources and concerns about prolonging the dying process. Giving medically futile care can not only be risky and prolong suffering, but it may also be deceptive because it can raise false hopes for the family.
No matter what the decision, never find yourself saying, "I'm sorry. There's nothing more we can do." Nurses can always provide comfort care, offering families great peace of mind.