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Lotz, Julia Desiree; Jox, Ralf J.; Meurer, Christine; Borasio, Gian Domenico and Führer, Monika (2016): Medical indication regarding life-sustaining treatment for children: Focus groups with clinicians. In: Palliative Medicine, Vol. 30, No. 10: pp. 960-970 [PDF, 111kB]


Background: Decisions about medical indication are a relevant problem in pediatrics. Difficulties arise from the high prognostic uncertainty, the decisional incapacity of many children, the importance of the family, and conflicts with parents. The objectivity of judgments about medical indication has been questioned. Yet, little is known about the factors pediatricians actually include in their decisions. Aim: Our aims were to investigate which factors pediatricians apply in deciding about medical indication, and how they manage conflicts with parents. Design: We performed a qualitative focus group study with experienced pediatricians. The transcripts were subjected to qualitative content analysis. Setting/participants: We conducted three focus groups with pediatricians from different specialties caring for severely ill children/adolescents. They discussed life-sustaining treatment in two case scenarios that varied according to diagnosis, age, and gender. Results: The decisions about medical indication were based on considerations relating to the individual patient, to the family, and to other patients. Individual patient factors included clinical aspects and benefit-burden considerations. Physicians' individual views and feelings influenced their decision-making. Different factors were applied or weighed differently in the two cases. In case of conflict with parents, physicians preferred solutions aimed at establishing consensus. Conclusion: The pediatricians defined medical indication on a case-by-case basis and were influenced by emotional reasoning. In contrast to prevailing ethico-legal principles, they included the interests of other persons in their decisions. Decision-making strategies should incorporate explicit discussions of social aspects and physicians' feelings to improve the transparency of the decision-making process and reduce bias.

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