The rights of minor hospital patients do not allow for the majority of children to have any autonomy as to their treatment. Rather, difficult decisions are left to either their parents or guardians, but allotting such stress to parents may not be in the child’s best interest.
Recently, a 10-year-old Amish girl was admitted to a hospital and diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. The doctors said continuing chemotherapy would have a high survival potential. The treatment was ordered and the parents initially consented. After two long years, treatment was stopped after her parents refused to allow it to continue.
The parents reasoned that their daughter had become incredibly sick from the treatment and had lost her ability to function. In tandem, the girl begged to stop the treatment because of the pain it was causing. Her parents recoiled at the sight of their child in excruciating pain and decided to stop medical treatment, opting instead for herbal medicine.
The doctors protested, and when a court ruled against them, they appealed. Their appeal was granted and the decision was reversed while temporary guardianship was granted to a nurse.
However, this ruling was only meant to be short-term while the first judge was asked to reconsider. After deliberation he sustained his original ruling and the child would not be forced back into chemotherapy and guardianship would remain with the parents.
The internal stress and conflict caused by watching your child withering away is indescribable. As a future parent, I can only hope to never be put in such a situation. The parents’ motives are unquestionably pure, and yet treatment dictated by a parent’s love — rather than a doctor’s expertise — may be dangerous. Most doctors avoid caring for their family and close friends for this reason.
The very nature of the medical field dictates that decisions are best made through a careful separation of sensitivity from from the necessary measures required to best help a patient. To strip doctors of their ability to carry out what they think is the best treatment would be no different than tying a musician’s hands and asking him to play his instrument. It is unfair to impede upon doctors’ ability to complete the task they were both trained to do and, under the Hippocratic Oath, to perform.
Yet there still must be a balance between the wishes of a parents, and that of the doctor. Therefore, what needs to be established is better dialogue between doctors and parents that allows for more informed decisions to be made. And in the tough instances if parents still refuse what doctors believe best, a hospital appeals committee should exist and be allowed to revoke the decision making process from the parents. This option should only be resorted to in the most extreme instances, similar to the aforementioned. Thus, decision making would be bestowed on those less emotionally involved and more medically informed and equipped to make the best decision.
John Santucci III is a contributing columnist. Email him at [email protected]