There has not been a clear medical definition of futility. The concept of futile treatment involves not only medical, but also social, ethical, and legal components. This paper argues that in today's pluralistic moral circumstances, the patient and/or the family should have the final right to decision regarding futile treatment.
Some are opposed to renouncing futile treatment, whatever futility is defined. For them, first, abandoning treatment is in conflict with the physician's basic duty of offering treatment. Second, giving up treatment also gives up the chance of making medical progress by attempting to treat the patient. Third, the patient would thereby lose the opportunity of prolonging the life. And finally, it would change the good image of the physician (as taking care of the patient). On the other hand, those who support renouncing futile treatment offer different reasons. First, giving up futile treatment will turn out to be respecting the value of the patient's life. Second, It would help people recognize the natural limit of contemporary medical development. Third, it would facilitate a reasonable pattern of distributing scarce medical resources. And finally, it could reduce the suffering of the patient. As a result, we face a social situation of moral pluralism: people disagree with each other regarding renouncing futile treatment.
A difficult practical issue is who has the right to decide renouncing futile treatment. This paper argues that, giving individuals hold conflicting views of life, valoue and morality, the patient should have the final decision power regarding his/her own treatment. If the patient is incompetent, then the family should have the deciding right. In this respect we should overcome the longstanding medical paternalism. In addition, society should establish a prcocedure to regulate and facilitate the decision-mading of renouncing futile treatment.