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August 21, 1996

A Multi-institution Collaborative Policy on Medical Futility

Author Affiliations

for the Houston City-Wide Task Force on Medical Futility
From the Department of Medicine and the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Tex.

JAMA. 1996;276(7):571-574. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540070067035

AN INFANT born with multiple congenital abnormalities that rendered survival unprecedented required high-dose vasopressors to maintain blood pressure. After several days, gangrene developed in the extremities, and the parents sequentially demanded amputations of several limbs in an attempt to "do everything." The surrogate decision maker for a comatose woman dying of multisystem organ failure in an intensive care unit (ICU) was her estranged husband; they separated because of repeated spousal abuse. Despite many conferences with the husband recommending comfort measures and a do-not-resuscitate order, the husband demanded that the medical staff "do everything to my wife." A public hospital serving an indigent community of several hundred thousand had a full ICU, and 3 patients were being kept in the emergency department on ventilators. One of the patients in the ICU was a gentleman who had been ventilator dependent and unresponsive for 41/2 months after a cardiac arrest; his daughter insisted