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Author Archive: Barron Lerner

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06/16/2014

MEDICAL FUTILITY, THEN AND NOW

by Barron H. Lerner, M.D., Ph.D.

When an article promoting the idea of medical futility appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 1990, my father was thrilled.  He believed the term was an apt description of the end-stage cases he too often saw as an infectious diseases consultant, in which he was expected to prescribe progressively more complicated antibiotic regimens to severely ill patients with no hope of recovery.

The concept of medical futility has achieved mixed success.  Advocates have promoted it as a way to discourage aggressive treatment of medical conditions that are not reversible.  Critics—and in some instances the courts—have seen it as an unreasonable strategy that interferes with patients’ rights.…

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