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The Journal of Medical Ethics has recently published an interesting series of articles. One of them looks at the ethical problem faced by doctors involved in paediatric intensive care, who face the problem of when parents of a child insist on continuing life-sustaining treatment, in the hope that a divine miracle will save their child, even when all medical opinion suggests that the outcome is very bleak.
Here’s an further extract: “Despite overwhelming medical evidence and advice about the eventual outcome, some parents insist on everything being done for their child in a belief that their religion would expect nothing less and would not condone any action or decision that would result in death. There is also a hope or even expectation of a ‘miracle cure’, with time for further prayer and demonstrations of faith necessary for a favourable outcome. For some families in this difficult situation there are additional extraneous pressures from the religious community or church leaders.”
“Protracted dialogue was often unable to resolve these differences [between parents and staff], while the child was subject to pain and discomfort from invasive ventilation, suctioning and multiple injections. We suggest it is time to reconsider current ethical and legal structures and facilitate rapid default access to courts in such situations when the best interests of the child are compromised in expectation of the miraculous.
How would you deal with this situation? Have you dealt with a situation like this before? Should ethical and legal structures be rethought to address parents who believe a miracle will happen? Or should doctors receive better training to address this issue?