Are all end-of-life decisions euthanasia decisions?
Do Belgian paediatric nurses really want to
be able to euthanase children with terminal illnesses? A recent article in the American Journal
of Critical Care based on a survey of 141 nurses suggests that this
is the case.
Euthanasia for children is illegal in
Belgium. But euthanasia for adults is not, although only a doctor can carry it
out. What the survey found is that “a large majority of those nurses support a
change in the law on euthanasia that would make life termination in children
possible” and that they should be involved in the decision-making process. Otherwise
they would experience “moral distress” at having to carry out someone else’s
However, when the article is examined more
carefully, the conclusions may not be warranted. The survey found that 85% of
nurses had participated in an “end-of-life” decision within the past two years.
But the vast majority of these end-of-life decisions involved non-treatment or
alleviation of pain. Only 19% involved “use of life-ending drugs”.
Nonetheless, the survey will fuel fears
that doctors and nurses are actively euthanasing sick children. According to
the survey, “Only 6% of nurses found it always ethically wrong to hasten the
death of a child by administering lethal drugs; most nurses (78%) reported they
were prepared to cooperate in administering life-ending drugs in some cases.” ~
hat tip to Carine Brochier
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