Reasons behind providing futile medical treatments in Iran: A qualitative study

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Despite their negative consequences, evidence shows that futile medical treatments are still being provided, particularly to terminally ill patients. Uncovering the reasons behind providing such treatments in different religious and sociocultural contexts can create a better understanding of medical futility and help manage it effectively.

Research objectives:

This study was undertaken to explore Iranian nurses’ and physicians’ perceptions of the reasons behind providing futile medical treatments.

Research design:

This was a qualitative exploratory study. Study data were gathered through conducting in-depth semi-structured personal interviews and analyzed using the conventional content analysis method.

Participants and research context:

Twenty-one nurses and nine medical specialists were recruited purposively from four teaching hospitals affiliated to Tehran University of Medical Sciences.

Ethical considerations:

This study was approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Research Center and the Research Ethics Committee of Tehran University of Medical Sciences. All participants gave informed consent for the research and that their anonymity was preserved.


The main theme of the study was “having an obligation to provide medical treatments despite knowing their futility.” This theme consisted of three main categories including patients’ and family members’ request for continuing life-sustaining treatments, healthcare professionals’ personal motives, and organizational atmosphere and structure.

Discussion and conclusion:

Different personal and organizational factors contribute to providing futile medical treatments. Promoting the structure and the function of hospital ethics committees, establishing and developing home care facilities, increasing the number of palliative care centers and hospices, and educating healthcare professionals, patients, and family members about the services and the benefits of such centers can facilitate making wise decisions about continuing or discontinuing treatments which have been labeled as futile.

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