Legal - Mythbusters Futile or non-beneficial treatment

Mythbusters: Futile or Non-Beneficial Treatment

Myth 1:

A health professional must provide life-sustaining treatment to a person if the person’s family insists that treatment be given

No. A health professional generally has no legal obligation to provide treatment they consider to be futile, non-beneficial or not in a person’s best interests. This is so, even if family members or substitute decision-makers insist that the treatment be provided.

The law is different though in Queensland where an adult lacks capacity. In this case, consent from a substitute decision-maker is required to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment. This issue is complex, and health professionals may wish to refer to End of Life Law in Australia or obtain their own legal advice on this issue.

It is always good practice to try to reach a shared decision with the person or their substitute decision-maker about withdrawing or withholding life-sustaining treatment.

Myth 2:

Courts will not support a health professional who does not want to provide futile treatment

Courts and tribunals have generally supported medical assessments of futility when these matters are litigated. This is especially so when the health professionals have consulted other health professionals, acted in accordance with guidelines, and engaged in discussions with persons and families.

Myth 3:

A health professional or residential aged care facility does not have to provide vaccinations (for example, influenza vaccinations) to residents of these facilities because that would be futile treatment

No. Whether or not treatment is futile can be decided only on a case-by-case basis. This is because it depends on an individual person’s needs and whether they would benefit from the treatment (including an assessment of the treatment’s benefits and risks). Because of this, it is not possible to make global assessments about futile treatment for people living in residential aged care facilities.

Page updated 29 March 2018