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'Medical futility' in Dutch neonatology

12 November 2009

‘Medical futility’ is an ethical and legal ground for withholding and withdrawing life-prolonging medical treatment. Life-prolonging treatment is ‘medically futile’ when its benefit to the patient is insufficient to justify its initiation or continuation. Sofia Moratti investigated the way the concept of ‘medical futility’ is used in Dutch Neonatal Intensive Care Units, in particular in the case of babies who are severely damaged following lack of oxygen at birth. Her research consists of an in-depth analysis of the present system of control over non-treatment decisions on grounds of ‘medical futility’ in neonatology, combined with a study on patient files and interviews with neonatologists in two major Dutch University Centers. Unlike most research in this field, Moratti’s work largely takes a sociological and qualitative approach. She reports extensively doctors’ statements and their descriptions of the decision-making process, quoting their exact words when these shed light on a particularly interesting issue. At the same time, in her research the medical context is not regarded as secondary.

The main finding of Moratti’s research is that the Dutch system of control over withholding and withdrawal of treatment on grounds of ‘medical futility’ in neonatology is, on the whole, as it functions in practice, adequate.

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.39 p.m.

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