“Don’t you ever tell anyone else the words you’ve just told me” with a such a phone call started one of our days at the Children’s Department of our Medical Center. On the phone was a mom, who recently consulted our center regarding the health of her child. The conclusion of our doctors, after the child’s examination, was that her condition is so severe that it won’t allow her to undergo physical therapy at our center. Even more: physical therapy as such is contraindicated for this child, because of exercise being so draining on her.
The main thing that our specialists tried to explain to this mom was that her child requires full and constant care. And we also gave her recommendations on how such care should be provided. Because it can be provided not only by specialists, the parents or guardians must also have such knowledge.
This is not the first situation, when parents who have children in this condition, address us. One may wonder: “Is there no way for you to help us? Is the condition really so hopeless?” The fact is, that at a certain stage of an afflicted child’s life, the state of their health can be grim, and then most of the therapies are inappropriate. For seriously ill children, when the prognosis is unfavorable, you need palliative care – care of physicians and social workers in order to ensure the patient’s quality of life and to relieve his/her suffering. For this purpose, there are special medical facilities such as hospices, of which here, in Ukraine, we have a great need. At present, this practice is not so widely spread, and often parents are forced to face this problem alone.
So, the question is, is it ethical to offer the parents treatments that won’t help their child, but can even do them harm. Perhaps this mother, whom we had to refuse, heard such a conclusion regarding the state of her child’s health for the very first time. Because there must have been those who’d sold her the idea of a “cure” for her child earlier. And there are those who – nothing sacred – would give this child contraindicated treatments, which, in our opinion, is a heartless fraud, all about the money.
During the phone call, this mom meant that our words destroyed her hope. However, the doctor ‘s duty to the patient lies in providing him with the truthful, objective conclusion. When parents realize their child’s true state of health, it helps them direct all their efforts on what the child actually needs at this stage of her life.