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Futile treatment, junior doctors and role virtues
  1. Rosalind McDougall
  1. Correspondence to Rosalind McDougall, Centre for Health and Society, University of Melbourne VIC 3010, Australia; rosjmcdougall{at}


Futile treatment is one ethically challenging situation commonly encountered by junior doctors. By analysing an intern's story using a role virtues framework, I propose a set of three steps for junior doctors facing this problem. I claim that junior doctors ought always to investigate the rationale underlying decisions to proceed with apparently futile treatment and discuss their concerns with their seniors, even if such discussion will be difficult. I also suggest that junior doctors facing this ethical challenge ought always to be willing to initiate and engage in ethical dialogue, and that in some situations further action (such as taking concerns outside the team or refusing to participate in treatment) may be morally appropriate.

  • Futility
  • junior doctors
  • internship
  • roles
  • virtue ethics
  • applied and professional ethics
  • education for healthcare professionals
  • care of the dying patient

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  • Funding This research was funded by an Australian Postgraduate Award.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the hospital involved, which cannot be named for reasons of participant confidentiality.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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