Legal - Futile or non-beneficial treatment case study
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Case Study: Futile and Non-Beneficial Treatment

Thelma is an 81-year-old woman who lives in a residential aged care facility. She has limited vision, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes but remains reasonably mobile. One afternoon, Thelma has a cardiac arrest and she is taken to hospital. She was without oxygen for an extended period, and suffered significant brain damage.

Upon admission to hospital, Thelma is transferred to the Intensive Care Unit and put on artificial ventilation. After three days, her condition has not improved. The intensive care specialists believe that she has no prospect of recovery (or being able to survive without artificial ventilation) given the extent of brain damage, and that further treatment would be futile. One of the specialists meets with Thelma’s son, Mark, who is also her substitute decision-maker. They discuss Thelma’s prognosis and the issue of withdrawing treatment and starting palliation is raised.

Mark asks if it is legal to stop treatment. The specialist explains to him that in these circumstances, the medical opinion of the specialists in the Intensive Care Unit is that continuing with treatment would not be in Thelma’s best interests. It would be of no benefit to her, it is intrusive and burdensome, and continuing to treat would be inconsistent with good medical practice. They are therefore able to lawfully withdraw Thelma’s intensive care treatment.

Mark does not want his mother to receive treatment that will not provide any benefit to her, and which will be burdensome. He agrees with the specialist to withdraw the intensive care treatment. The decision to withdraw intensive care treatment from Thelma would be lawful in this situation.

Page updated 29 March 2018