Obvious statement: when faced with the imminent death of a child, most parents urge doctors to try everything, to keep working to turn things around, to try experimental treatments with a low likelihood of success, even when everyone else has given up hope. Less obvious side effect of that manifestation of parental instinct: doctors are occasionally forced by parents' irrational belief in last-minute miracles to continue treatment that they say leads dying children through unnecessary pain and suffering before meeting their all-but-inevitable end. And in the UK, doctors are fighting to get more power to decline to continue treatment of dying children, even when parents want to keep fighting. No matter how you slice it: saddest debate ever.
The doctors aren't being entirely heartless, here. In their defense, their job is to provide appropriate care to their patients, and when they're treating children, they often bump up against the wishes of parents. And as medical professionals, it makes sense that they'd want to prioritize the needs of their patients over the desires of the people who are not their patients. They've also got some research to back them up — according to a study published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, and reported on by CBS, researchers found that when faced with end-of-life care for a child, most parents who chose to continue treatment against the recommendations of health care professionals did so because they believed that divine intervention would save their child's life. But researchers concluded that this wasn't in the best interests of the child. From the study:
Spending a lifetime attached to a mechanical ventilator having every bodily function supervised and sanitized by a carer or relative, leaving no dignity or privacy to the child or adult has been argued as inhumane. 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.
Further, citizens of the UK enjoy socialized medicine, which means that everyone is supposed to share all of the doctors (also: death panels). An opinion published alongside the published study agreed with the researchers' findings, stating, basically, that doctors should spend their time treating patients that are likely to make a full recovery rather than bowing to the whims of parents who believe that God will intervene. Doctors are calling for laws to strengthen their rights as advocates for the patients, and give them greater ability to reject parents' religious beliefs as justification for continuing to give children access to medical science.
But even in the States, parents sometimes hope against hope that their children will be saved by some kind of miracle — and unintentionally end up causing more pain in the process. One doctor recalled the case of a woman who refused to take her child off life support, because she believed that God would bring a miracle. The doctor helpfully pointed out to her that God shouldn't need life support in order to make a miracle occur.
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. Hell, I'd pay a zillion dollars if a doctor was like "pay this and your cat won't be sick." I can't imagine the agony of choosing to end medical treatment for a child.
Is this the most depressing study ever conducted in the history of studies? I'm not willing to google "sad puppies who died of loneliness" in order to find out.