Legal - Mythbusters Futile or non-beneficial treatment
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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 provided

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.

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

Myth 2:

Courts will not support a health professional who does not want to provide futile or non-beneficial treatment

Courts and tribunals have generally supported medical opinion about futility when asked to decide if treatment is futile or non-beneficial. This is especially so when the person’s health professionals have consulted other health professionals, acted in accordance with guidelines, and engaged in discussions with individuals and their families.

However, courts have not always agreed with medical opinion, and there have been legal cases where the court has overruled clinical decisions to withdraw life-sustaining treatment considered to be futile.

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 or non-beneficial treatment

No. Whether or not treatment is futile or non- beneficial 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 or non-beneficial treatment for people living in residential aged care facilities.

Page updated 3 June 2021