Degree Name

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Document Type

Major Paper


School of Nursing




Nurses are responsible for providing care for patients and following through with a physician’s orders, however, it is not always easy to do. Certain cases are more difficult than others, especially those involving end-of-life care versus continuing with life-sustaining measures. It is not an easy decision for families or patients to make, but sometimes these life-sustaining interventions can do more harm than good, causing much distress among caregivers (Burns & Truog, 2007). Some cases have become hallmark cases like that of Terri Schiavo, a woman who was in a persistent vegetative state from 1990 to 2005 while her parents and husband fought between keeping her alive or letting her go peacefully (Quill, 2005). Another difficult case in 2007 involved a toddler, Emilio Gonzales, whose mother fought for more time with her child rather than removing the ventilator (Cohen, 2007).

Defining futility and its role in healthcare has been an ongoing issue since the 1980s. For the purpose of this research paper, futility is defined as “treatment or clinical interventions that are not likely to result in benefit to the patient or produce the expected outcome” (Terra & Powell, 2012, p. 103). Nurses can suffer from moral distress when they are obligated to provide life-sustaining interventions to patients that have a small chance of benefiting from them. Nurses may experience less frustration and moral distress if hospitals implement a futility policy that provides guidance in these difficult cases. The purpose of this study is to explore nurses' attitudes regarding a hospital-based medical futility policy.

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