Home / News / Researchers say parents holding out for divine intervention, concerning end-of-life decisions for their children, is possibly inhumane
Researchers say parents holding out for divine intervention, concerning end-of-life decisions for their children, is possibly inhumane

Researchers say parents holding out for divine intervention, concerning end-of-life decisions for their children, is possibly inhumane

Parents holding out for a miracle concerning their critically ill child causes more harm than good, researchers say.  Children who are unlikely to survive do better at the end of life than when parents hold out for a miracle by extending the child’s suffering.

While religion can provide support for the families of critical ill patients, researchers found that those who hope for divine intervention is not always in the child’s best interest.  Researchers say that the ethics and legality of the life of critically ill children needs re-evaluating.

In a study, conducted by a team of hospital doctors and a chaplain, involving 203 cases of parents having to make end-of-life decisions concerning their critically ill child, 183 of the cases found that the doctors and parents were in agreement with withdrawing ineffective aggressive treatment.

However, in 17 cases, the parents insisted on continuing aggressive treatment, despite doctors encouraging the parents to discontinue the treatment.  Out of the 17 cases, 11 of the cases involved the religious belief that divine intervention would happen and the parents truly believed God would intervene and cure their child, if they just continued the intensive care the team of doctors declared ineffective.

Among the religions represented in this group were Christian fundamentalism, Islam, Judaism, and Roman Catholicism, the researchers noted. These parents also thought the doctors were overly pessimistic and wrong.

Five of the cases were resolved after seeking religious counsel by leaders outside the hospital and one went to court to seek legal action to discontinue intensive care.  In the remaining cases, the parents and doctors could not resolve the issues, so treatment continued, despite its ineffectiveness to heal the child.

Four of the children eventually died. One child survived with profound neurological disability, according to the report published online Aug. 14 in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

The journal stated that it is understandable that parents would advocate for their child, but in most cases, the child was too young to subscribe to the parent’s religion and such beliefs “may be inappropriate” for the child’s condition and prognosis.  In some cases, researchers and doctors stated, “useless aggressive medical treatment”, which prolongs the child’s suffering and causes unnecessary suffering “may be inhumane”.

"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 and then adult, has been argued as inhumane," they said in the report.

"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," the authors concluded.

About Mriana

Mriana is a humanist and the author of "A Source of Misery", who grew up in the Church of God, Anderson Indiana. After she became an adult, she joined the Episcopal Church, but later left the Church and became a humanist. She has two grown sons and raises cats. Mriana raised her sons in the Episcopal Church, but in their teen years, they left the Church and she soon followed. One of her sons became a "Tao Buddhist" and the other a None, creating his own world view. She enjoys writing, reading, science, philosophy, psychology, and other subjects. Mriana is also an animal lover, who cares for their welfare as living beings, who are part of the earth. She is a huge Star Trek fan in a little body.
  • Deborah_B

    That is a tough one. This is one of those situations where I can honestly say that I don't have an opinion because I can see all points of view. No one, unless they are psychotic, intentionally wants their child to suffer and it's only natural to hold onto hope, especially if the medical professionals seem to be offering it.

    • Yes, I agree. Even I would hold out hope that some medical treatment would work to save my child, so it's not necessarily a divine intervention belief. It sort of reminds me of the Star Trek episode The Child. Deanna didn't carry the child for a whole 10 months. She only carried the child for a few hours, but she wanted that child and when he was about to die, she told Dr. Palaski, "You have to save him!" Ultimately it was not meant to be and as the story goes, he did not die, but went on to live as he did before he became human.

      When parents want a child, the desire to keep that child alive against all hope is strong. The bond between a truly desired child and one that is forced upon a parent (not always, but most of the time) is very strong, esp after the child is born and the parents have had time to bond. Just thinking about the possibility of losing one of my sons makes me want to cry. I can imagine that that feeling is a 100 Xs strong in parents actually facing, religious or not. I can very well see that non-religious holding out hope that the knowledge, technology, and medicine we have will take affect and their child recovers, despite any reason and logic saying differently. Much like my cat Amber, who had to be euthanized due to organ failure. Sure, I could hold out hope that the dr stopped it, but she'd suffer from organ damage that we'd have to treat for the rest of her life. Despite it being difficult at the time and I still sometimes question myself, there was nothing the vet could do to ease her suffering. The dr could only prolong her life, but not ease her suffering. It's hard. Very hard to make the decision and accept the fact that a quality life is better than a quantity life full of suffering and pain, thereby having to let the person go when they won't have a quality life.

      However, sometimes when people go for quantity, instead of quality, it is for selfish reasons, like not wanting to let the person go, so they will no longer suffer. Sometimes one has to put aside their natural tendencies of wanting to keep that person around in your life and decide what is best to ease the person's suffering.

  • skater60

    It would be an extreme test of Faith for a person of Faith – whether to trust one's doctor, one's parental love, or one's Faith. Of those choices only Faith provides a possible escape hatch from the situation. I believe in the escape hatch, but I hope never to tested regarding one of my kids. The "escape hatch" is this: Death is a door, not an end. Death is not the enemy, Fear is (as usual).

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