As shocking and as it may sound, that is exactly what some parents believe. A small study suggests that doctors may be giving fatal morphine doses to a few children dying of cancer, to end their suffering at their parents’ request.
According to a Huffington Post article, a handful of parents told researchers that they had asked doctors to hasten their children’s deaths – and that doctors complied, using high doses of the powerful painkiller.
Dr. Douglas Diekema, a medical ethicist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, said the study results are not surprising.
“I have no doubt that in a small number of cases, some physicians might cooperate with a parent’s desire to see a child’s suffering ended. This might include giving a drug for sedation or pain control that also suppresses the drive to breathe.
“Most physicians don’t intentionally push that drug to the point of stopping a child’s breathing, but some may be comfortable not intervening if a child stops breathing in the course of treating him or her for discomfort,” Diekema said.
Although, the lead author of the study and several other physicians said they doubt doctors are engaged in active mercy killing. Instead, they speculate the parents interviewed for the study mistakenly believed that doctors had followed their wishes. Morphine doses are increased to ease pain, and that the children’s subsequent deaths were only coincidental, said lead author Dr. Joanne Wolfe, a palliative pain specialist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children’s Hospital in Boston.
The AMA (American Medical Association), American Academy of Pediatrics and most other mainstream doctor groups oppose mercy-killing but say withholding life-prolonging treatment for dying patients can be ethical.
Among parents studied, one in eight, or 13 percent, said they had considered asking about ending their child’s life, and 9 percent said they had that discussion with caregivers. Parents of five children said they had explicitly requested euthanasia for their dying children, and parents of three said it had been carried out, with morphine.
“If there was absolutely no other option, and the patient is suffering, then why wouldn’t you” hasten death? said David Reilly, a Boston-area man whose 5-year-old son died of cancer 11 years ago.
Washington is one of the state that has legalized physician-assisted termination via statute, Oregon as well. Although it explicitly limits the practice to terminally-ill patients over the age of eighteen.
Perhaps this study will open up a dialog on what rights dying children and their parents have. A tragic discussion but one we should have the bravery to have.