The goal of medicine is to help the sick. Physicians have no obligation to offer treatments that do not benefit patients. Futile interventions may increase a patient's pain and discomfort in the final days and weeks of life; give patients and family false hope; delay palliative and comfort care; and expend finite medical resources. However, determining which interventions are beneficial to a patient can be difficult, since the patient or surrogate might see an intervention as beneficial while the physician does not. Physicians should follow professional standards, and should consider empirical studies and their own clinical experience when making futility judgments. They should also show sensitivity to patients and families in carrying out decisions to withhold or withdraw futile interventions.
Although the ethical requirement to respect patient autonomy entitles a patient to choose from among medically acceptable treatment options (or to reject all options), it does not entitle patients to receive whatever treatments they ask for. Instead, the obligations of physicians are limited to offering treatments that are consistent with professional standards of care and that confer benefit to the patient.