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Futility of treatment is often confused with "futility" of life.The Torah teaches us that every moment of life is intrinsically valuable; life itself is never futile.The 71-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner told a police officer that he had two tequila drinks and was planning to drive home.The officer could smell alcohol on Shepard's breath and the actor had bloodshot, watery eyes.An inescapable result of the extraordinary technological progress of the last several decades has been that critically ill patients who would have died early in their illnesses, often in the relative comfort of their homes, are now kept alive much longer in hospitals, often suffering great pain.
But, independent of the aspect of futility, in the case of the first patient, halacha would likely dictate that intervention is forbidden because of the principle of "goses" (the moribund patient).An incurable illness which will likely result in the death of the patient within one year is considered terminal with respect to Jewish law.A patient with such an illness or condition is called a "chayay sha'ah," -- one whose life is "timed" or "time-limited." One who is expected to survive beyond a year is considered a "chayay olam" -- one whose life is considered "eternal" in the sense that their life expectancy is presumed indefinite and not limited.A second form of futile therapy involves a treatment that is extremely unlikely to be successful, but is intended to reverse the condition to which it is being applied.An example would be a patient with a cancer that has not been shown to be responsive to standard chemotherapy. But clearly, according to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, if the patient is in intractable pain and the therapy is not proven to be efficacious, the patient may refuse the physician's offer of a "futile" therapy that prolongs life without a reasonable expectation of cure or relief of pain.