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Palliative Pearl:

Beware of the F word – “Futility”

June 2019 –

We find “Futility” is not a useful term when discussing treatment options.

  • It is not well defined and tends to be inflammatory.
  • It can mask value judgments by clinicians
  • It can pit clinicians against each other and against the patient and family, making is harder to find realistic and patient-centered treatments.

When you feel a therapy may be “futile”, we suggest you replace the word with “non-beneficial care”. It helps patients and other clinicians understand you are weighing harms and benefits and making a recommendation toward helpful therapies.

When you hear the F-word think about whether there is disagreement in the treatment team, and whether more work is needed to improve prognostic awareness.

For more information contact Dr. Leslie Estep or Dr. Anita Meyer at Hospice of the Northwest, (360) 814-5550, or or

About Hospice of the Northwest

Hospice of the Northwest is a skilled, caring and compassionate team of nursing, medical, social and spiritual professionals, volunteers and generous donors. Together, we provide comprehensive care and comfort for patients facing serious illness and the loved ones who care for them. We’ve been serving the residents of Skagit, Island, San Juan and Snohomish Counties since 1989.

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