Opinion Brief

Waiting for a miracle: Is it inhumane for religious parents to prolong treatment of sick kids?

The authors of a medical study argue that doctors should have the last word in end-of-life cases involving children, because some parents hold out too long for a miracle

A controversial new study by doctors at a London hospital concludes that deeply religious parents sometimes wind up unwittingly making terminally ill children suffer needlessly by prolonging aggressive but futile treatment, hoping that God will provide a miracle. The authors looked at 203 cases involving "end of life" decisions involving child patients, and found that in 11 instances doctors and parents couldn't reach an agreement on what to do, because the mothers and fathers were holding out hope for "divine intervention." The authors wrote in the Journal of Medical Ethics that in these cases medical professionals should be given greater rights as advocates for patients, so they'll be able to overrule decisions made by their parents that only prolong suffering. Should doctors really have that much power?

Sounds harsh, but it's for the best: Doctors should always take the religious beliefs of patients and their families into account, Arthur Caplan, head of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells ABC News, "but you can't let any parent for any reason hijack what you as a doctor believe is in the child's best interest." If the treatment parents want "will cause pain and suffering and further treatment is pointless, a doctor should not do it even if the parents say Jesus spoke to them."
"Deeply religious parents often reluctant to Cease medical care"

Doctors should give priority to people they can save: The authors are "wrong to claim that parents who request futile treatment are acting against the interests of their child," says Julian Savulescu in the Journal of Medical Ethics. The best ethical justification for "withholding or withdrawing life-prolonging treatment" isn't that letting someone die is more humane. It's that we have limited resources, and we use them on people we have a legitimate chance to save.
"Just dying: The futility of futility"

For a parent, a sliver of hope is enough: I get it — doctors want to minimize their patients' suffering, says Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel. "Still, it makes sense that parents would do everything in their power to hang on, even if there was the tiniest lottery ticket sliver of hope left." I would part with every penny I have to save my cat. "I can't imagine the agony of choosing to end medical treatment for a child."
"Doctors push for right to crush spirits of dying kids' parents"

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