Aggressive Care as a Treatment

Chemotherapy drug bag
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Aggressive care describes a particular approach to a life-threatening illness or condition. A patient receiving aggressive care will receive the benefit of every medication, technology, tool and trick that doctors can devise to treat his or her illness. Chemotherapy, dialysis, radiation therapy, surgery, antibiotics, and other medical interventions designed to preserve and prolong life would be considered aggressive care.

If a patient is receiving aggressive care, it is an indication that there is a belief—among medical professionals, or at least among family members authorizing the treatment—that the patient will recover or will receive an extension of the life of a quality considered to be acceptable. When this no longer appears to be the case, doctors may suggest ending aggressive care—stopping chemotherapy, for example, or letting an infection take its course rather than stop it with antibiotics.

When Aggressive Care Isn't Used

Doctors may feel such care is futile in the case of a patient who is comatose, brain-dead or has what is considered an unacceptable quality of life. They may recommend palliative care in these situations, and move families from seeking to aggressively save their loved one’s life to see the value of end-of-life care. If families insist on aggressive care past the point at which doctors or hospitals find it useful or merciful, they may have to go to court to force the hospital to comply, and they may lose that battle.

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