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January 11, 2012

The Courts, Futility, and the Ends of Medicine

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Program on Ethics and Decision Making in Critical Illness, Department of Critical Care Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Center for Bioethics and Health Law, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Dr White); and Health Law Institute, Hamline University School of Law, St Paul, Minnesota, and Alden March Bioethics Institute, Albany Medical College, Albany, New York (Dr Pope).

JAMA. 2012;307(2):151-152. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1990

On August 13, 2010, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey declined to rule in the matter of Betancourt v Trinitas Hospital,1 a case that raised questions about the limits of medicine in patients with advanced illness. In declining to rule, the judges wrote that resolving such issues in “the context of overheated rhetoric in the battlefield of active litigation” would not positively contribute to the policy debate around medical futility. These comments raise important questions about whether there is a role for the courts in helping to shape the boundaries of medical practice near the end of life.

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