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Hello! I'm a nursing student that recently cared for a child in the ICU. This child has never had the ability to speak, smell, see, walk, swallow, or care for herself in any way. She comes to the hospital frequently because the only way to survive is with medical machinery and constant suctioning. Unfortunately, the parents have become burned out. I felt like I was prolonging misery. To "pull the plug" on anyone is never easy, but it seems less ethical to do so on a child than it does with the elderly. Should quality of life have greater influence than age?

June 5, 2014

Response from Oliver Leaman on June 19, 2014
The parents and you may indeed be miserable, but who is to say that the patient has so little quality of life that she would be better off dead than alive? As you say, we might be more inclined to pull the plug were she to be older and we could say that the patient has at least had a life and has nothing much to look forward to in the future. But in the case of a child, and even an older person, the vagaries of what can happen to a person are so various and hard to predict that it is difficult to be sure of her outcome in any case.

It might be argued that one of the criteria of an ethical society is one where those who are having severe physical and mental problems are treated as humanely and professionally as possible, despite the expense and the trouble it causes. Life can be miserable and yet even within a severely limited form of existence there are possibilities of satisfaction that it would be a shame to deny someone because we no longer kept them alive.


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