End of life, Ethical dilemmas, Medical futility, Quality of life



  1. Whitmer, Mary RN, FNP, BC-PC
  2. Hurst, Susan RN, MSN, CCRN, CNRN
  3. Prins, Marilynn RN, MSN, CNRN
  4. Shepard, Kelli BSW, MDiv
  5. McVey, Doris RN, BSN, MBA, CPHQ, CPHRM


Medical futility is a concept commonly used to describe medical therapy that has no known or anticipated immediate or long-term benefit for a patient. The concept of futility has existed since the time of Hippocrates and has become the predominant dilemma for many end-of-life situations. Today, clinicians grapple with ethical conflicts and concepts in their daily practice. Many healthcare providers use the concept of medical futility when they are talking with patients and families who are in a quandary about their loved one's care. This article provides an overview of medical futility.