Queensland University of Technology (QUT) will undertake a study into why futile medical treatment is, at times, provided to dying patients.
The study will be conducted by a cross-disciplinary team of academics from QUT and the University of Queensland, in partnership with the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital.
The research, lead by Professor Lindy Willmott and Associate Professor Ben White from QUT's Health Law Research Program, will reveal why treatment which is considered unnecessary from a strictly medical point of view is sometimes provided.
Professor Willmott said administering treatment to those coming to the end of their life through either diagnosed illnesses or sudden accidents was a complex issue, and could affect the quality of the patient's dying experience.
She said providing futile treatment can also have adverse effects on the health professionals involved with giving such treatment.
She also said while limited research had been conducted in the US and Canada and anecdotal evidence collected in Australia, this would be the first comprehensive study to determine the size of the issue and the best ways of dealing with it.
"We know patients near their deaths are sometimes provided with treatment that may not be in their best interests, and that simply delays the dying process," she said.
Associate Professor White said such treatment appeared to be performed for a range of reasons including doctors' concern about potential legal liability of not providing treatment, especially when family members insisted that it be done.
"When a loved one is dying a range of complex family issues can come into play, for example with family members who may not have seen the patient for a long time and are unprepared for them to die," he said.
"The delivery of care appears also to be influenced by doctors' perceptions of patient death as a failure, uncertainty about what patients who are now unable to communicate would have wanted, communication issues between specialists when a patient is being treated for a range of illnesses, as well as a doctor's religious views."