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Comprehensive Handbook of Childhood Cancer and Sickle Cell DiseaseA Biopsychosocial Approach$
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Ronald T. Brown

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780195169850

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195169850.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 12 June 2021

Palliative Care at the End of Life

Palliative Care at the End of Life

(p.341) 18 Palliative Care at the End of Life
Comprehensive Handbook of Childhood Cancer and Sickle Cell Disease

David J. Bearison

Oxford University Press

Consider the following advice given to parents whose children are dying in hospitals: “If your child has to die, he can die peacefully. You can make sure he is free of pain. You can make sure that everyone has a chance to say good-bye” (Hilden & Tobin, 2003, p. 3). To offer parents this kind of unconditional assurance (i.e., “You can make sure . . . ”) dismisses the confusing and disturbing realities of actually having to care for a child when it becomes increasingly apparent that curative intent is failing and staff begin to question how best to proceed. The complexity of symptom control in various clinical conditions sometimes precludes children from having peaceful deaths. However, when you read findings from the few palliative care studies that exist (and there are few that consider children as participants), issues of pain management and psychosocial support at the end of life do not seem to be so difficult to resolve. These findings promote ideas that, when satisfactory end-of-life care is not achieved, it is because mistakes were made, staff were inadequately trained, and children thereby were made to suffer unnecessarily. Such ways of thinking in turn lead bereft parents to feel guilty at not having empowered themselves to have taken greater control in the care of their child and to have done the right thing for their child. Although mistakes occur, staff can be better trained, and children might unnecessarily suffer, there are very few guarantees of a comfortable way of dying from medical causes. Most textbooks and studies about end-of-life care simply ignore the messy realities and uncertainties, particularly as they pertain to children and their families. The Report to the Board of Directors of the American Psychological Association from its Working Group on Assisted Suicide and End-of-Life Decisions (2003) raised a clarion call to document publicly what it is like, in practical day-by-day terms, for people who die in hospitals and how it affects endof- life decisions for the staff, patients, and families. We all prefer to die quickly, without protracted suffering and pain and without humiliation. Deaths during sleep are particularly preferred.

Keywords:   end-of-life care, family-centered medicine, geriatric care, hospice, palliative care

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