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Decisions about life-sustaining measures in children: in whose best interests?

Journal title
Acta paediatrica
Publication year
Cornfield, D. N.; Kahn, J. P.

As the community of physicians and nurses dedicated to the care of critically ill children has gained ever more well-developed skill sets, the decision to either continue or forego life-sustaining measures has become less time-sensitive. As a result, there is greater opportunity for careful consideration and discussion. The core principle in making decisions about whether to continue or forego life-sustaining measures is the best interests of the child. However, there are many clinical situations wherein factors other than the child’s best interests may influence treatment decisions. The present report seeks to examine the notion that in the arena of paediatric critical care medicine, the decision-making process regarding life-sustaining measures may place insufficient priority upon the child’s best interests. We examine actual, de-identified clinical situations, encountered in the critical care arena in two categories: (i) cases that challenge the imperative to act in the child’s best interests, and (ii) cases that compromise the ability of parents and caregivers to use child-centred, best-interests approaches to decision-making. Clarity surrounding the implications of a clinical decision for the patient is essential. Decisions that are not focused squarely on the child’s best interests may compromise the delivery of optimally ethical end-of-life care. CONCLUSION: The cases and analysis may benefit parents and caregivers as they struggle with the difficult ethical issues that accompany decisions to continue or forego life-sustaining measures in children.

Research abstracts