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Keywords:

  • medical futility;
  • futile health care treatment;
  • withholding and withdrawing treatment;
  • ethics;
  • autonomy;
  • benevolence

Do parents or surrogates have the right to demand treatment deemed futile? An analysis of the case of Baby L

The purpose of this discussion paper is to address and analyse the ethical issues arising from the following questions: Do parents or surrogates of newborn infants have the right to demand treatment deemed ‘futile’? Should the religious beliefs of the infant's parents be given special consideration when deciding on the correct course of action? The case of Baby L, an infant born with severe disability will be used to aid the analysis. It is argued that health care providers have no obligation to provide ‘futile’ treatment based on the surrogates’ right to autonomy, but an obligation may arise from a duty of benevolence. However, acting from a duty of benevolence can ignore considerations of justice and fairness and does not always prompt the right course of action. Any decision regarding treatment options will involve ranking the beliefs and values of the parents or surrogate against the integrity of the health care team and the interest of society as a whole. The consequences of continuing or discontinuing life-sustaining treatment for the infant, the parents and the health care team will also be considered and examined.