How it feels to withdraw feeding from newborn babies

An anonymous British physician challenged the sensitivity of the readers of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) with his recent letter published in the November 1, 2012, issue of the prestigious UK publication (see ).  The physician describes his feelings as he applies the Liverpool Care Pathway (LPC) to pediatric patients in his hospital.  (Those who read this blog regularly may remember the post on the LPC last month; see )

The emotional burden of working with parents who must witness the slow demise of a severely ill child takes a toll.  The situation as described in the letter is more than merely dealing with a dying child.  It is the ethical challenge of issuing the order to withdraw nutrition and hydration to speed up the process.   

The doctor wrote that parents “wish for their child to die quickly once the feeding and fluids are stopped.  They wish for pneumonia.  They wish for no suffering.  They wish for no visible changes to their precious baby.   Their wishes, however, are not consistent with my experience.  Survival is often much longer than most physicians think; reflecting on my previous patients, the median time from withdrawal of hydration to death was ten days.”

When I first wrote about the Liverpool Care Pathway, my thoughts were focused on end-of-life care for the critically-ill elderly.  Deciding not to prolong the life of someone who has lived a “complete life” is one thing.  Refusing nourishment and hydration to a new-born child for 10 days borders on cruel and unusual treatment; not compassionate care by any definition of the term. 

Once again the media in the UK is blowing up as these stories are making their way into the press.  Palliative care is supposed to ease a person’s way into the final stage of life, not hasten death to save money. 

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The opinions expressed in this blog post are mine alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Baylor University.   Baylor is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information provided in this post.

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