Futility and the Ethics of Resuscitation

Tom Tomlinson, Howard Brody

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

232 Scopus citations


Recent recommendations that physicians be allowed to withhold cardiopulmonary resuscitation, without patient consent, from patients for whom it would be futile have drawn objections that such unilateral judgments would undermine respect for patient autonomy. These objections assume that since futility determinations involve value judgments, patient input is always required. However, certain sorts of value judgments must be made unilaterally by physicians as part of reasonable medical practice. Moreover, the mixed messages inherent in requesting patient consent to withhold futile therapy serve to undermine rather than to enhance autonomous choice. Real patient interests can better be served by a broad public dialogue around judgments of medical reasonableness and medical futility, rather than concern for the form but not the substance of patient autonomy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1276-1280
Number of pages5
JournalJAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association
Issue number10
StatePublished - Sep 12 1990
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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