The Barnes Case: Taking Difficult Futility Cases Public

Ruth A Mickelsen, Daniel S. Bernstein, Mary Faith Marshall, Steven H Miles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Futility disputes are increasing and courts are slowly abandoning their historical reluctance to engage these contentious issues, particularly when confronted with inappropriate surrogate demands for aggressive treatment. Use of the judicial system to resolve futility disputes inevitably brings media attention and requires clinicians, hospitals, and families to debate these deep moral conflicts in the public eye. A recent case in Minnesota, In re Emergency Guardianship of Albert Barnes, explores this emerging trend and the complex responsibilities of clinicians and hospital administrators seeking to replace an unfaithful surrogate demanding aggressive therapy. Use of the courts requires the coordinated commitment of significant institutional resources, management of intense media scrutiny and individual and organizational courage to enter the unpredictable world of litigation. Given the dearth of legislative guidance on medical futility, individual clinicians and institutions will continue to bear the difficult responsibility for resolution of individual futility disputes. The Barnes case illustrates how one institution successfully used the judicial system to replace an unfaithful surrogate, cease the provision of inappropriate aggressive care, and stimulate a community dialogue about appropriate care at the end of life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)374-378
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Law, Medicine and Ethics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2013


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