U.S. Study Finds Doctors May Be Euthanizing Dying Children at Parents’ Request

A study published in the March edition of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine suggests that a few physicians may have killed children who were very sick by giving them fatal morphine doses, after the parents had requested euthanasia.

Dr. Joanne Wolfe, a palliative pain specialist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children’s Hospital in Boston, interviewed 141 parents of children who died of cancer in order to explore the parents’ motivation in considering and enquiring about hastening their child’s death.

The study found that 19 of the 141 parents, or 13 percent, said they had considered asking about ending their child’s life, and 13 parents reported having discussed intentionally ending their child’s life. Parents of five children said they had explicitly asked a clinician for medications to end the child’s life, and parents of three said it had been carried out with an overdose of morphine.

Dr. Wolfe wrote that the objective of the study was “to estimate the frequency of hastening death discussions, describe current parental endorsement of hastening death and intensive symptom management, and explore whether children’s pain influences these views in a sample of parents whose child died of cancer.”

“With two US states now allowing legalized physician-assisted suicide,” continued Dr. Wolfe, “these discussions may become more frequent. Attitudes toward hastening death in noninfant children with life-threatening conditions have seldom been described.”

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told LifeSiteNews (LSN) that he is seriously concerned by the finding of the study that medical professionals may have been willing to break the law and cause the death of a child in response to the request of parents.

“The fact is that if euthanasia of children were legal, such as it is in the Netherlands, there would be little to no protection for these children,” Schadenberg said.

“Thankfully the actual number of children who were allegedly euthanized is small. The fact is that these children required excellent care, not death.”

Dr. Wolfe observed that the child’s experience of pain affects hastening death (HD) considerations by the parents, but many are not given adequate information about the legal options for pain relief, which can include sedating children into unconsciousness.

“Several studies indicate that both caregivers and physicians tend to confuse the unintended adverse effects of intensive symptom management with the intentional hastening of death. In our sample, the 3 families who reported intentionally hastening their child’s death described doing so using morphine, which raises the question of whether they had misinterpreted the physicians’ intentions. In fact, evidence indicates that opioids can be used safely at the end of life and that their effect on survival, if any, is negligible.”

“Our results suggest that more than 1 of every 8 parents report considering HD during their child’s illness, and they tended to do so if their child was in pain. In the context of an HD discussion, identifying sources of suffering and clearly explaining effective and legal options, including proportionately intensive symptom management, may ease parents’ considerations of hastening their child’s death,” the report concluded.

The full text of the study, titled “Considerations About Hastening Death Among Parents of Children Who Die of Cancer” is available here.

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