Futile Treatment in Hospital: Doctors’ Intergroup Language
Journal of Language and Social Psychology, Vol. 34(6), Pp. 657-671, 2015
27 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2016
Date Written: 2015
Treatment that will not provide significant net benefit at the end of a person’s life (called futile treatment) is considered by many people to represent a major problem in the health sector, as it can waste resources and raise significant ethical issues. Medical treatment at the end of life involves a complex negotiation that implicates intergroup communication between health professionals, patients, and families, as well as between groups of health professionals. This study, framed by intergroup language theory, analyzed data from a larger project on futile treatment, in order to examine the intergroup language associated with futile treatment. Hospital doctors (N = 96) were interviewed about their understanding of treatment given to adult patients at the end of life that they considered futile. We conducted a discourse analysis on doctors’ descriptions of futile treatment provided by themselves and their in-group and out-group colleagues. Results pointed to an intergroup context, with patients, families, and colleagues as out-groups. In their descriptions, doctors justified their own decisions using the language of logic, ethics, and respect. Patients and families, however, were characterized in terms of wishing and wanting, as were outgroup colleagues. In addition, out-group doctors were described in strongly negative intergroup language.
Keywords: Intergroup Health Communication, Linguistic Intergroup Bias, End of Life Decision-Making, Withholding and Withdrawing Life-Sustaining Treatment, Futility
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