nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
See here for more discussion.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Parents Consider Hastening Cancer Children's Death?

This is an odd study in the Archives of Pedatric and Adolescent Medicine.  It's a survey of 141 parents of children who died of cancer.  13% considered requesting hastened death for their child, and 9% discussed it.

I'm not really surprised at this.  Any parent, myself included, who has stood by helplessly while their child suffered, can become desperate, particularly in this case when the end is certain and fast approaching.  This hits so many parental hot buttons that it's hard to even write about.

More interesting, from the point of view of how we see the value of life, is the finding that in retrospect 34% of parents would have considered hastening death when the child was in uncontrollable pain, while only 15% would consider it if there was "non-physical suffering." [emphasis added]

Clearly this is hypothetical; these parents are not confronted with the reality, but are just guessing what they would do.  We need to take this with a grain of salt.

Nevertheless, it's interesting because "non-physical" suffering may be as severe, as uncontrollable pain...maybe.  Non-physical suffering could include medicated children, those in coma, those who are severely depressed, etc.  It's not clear to me that the parents are making a judgment on the basis of the "child's" assessment of the quality of life.  In fact, it may be that the parents are doing what parents do--judging what's best for the child.

I'm not one of those liberation radicals about children.  Kids need limits, guidance, rules, consequences, and all the other tools in the parent kit-box.  But in cases like the ones in the article I hope I could sense enough of what the child feels and knows.  They surprise you sometimes.

As a physician, I've never been asked to hasten a child's death.  If that ever happens, there's going to be some difficult thinking to do.

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