Respect for an individual’s autonomy determines that doctors should inform patients if their illness is terminal. This becomes complicated when the terminal diagnosis is recent and death is imminent. The authors examine the admission to paediatric intensive care of an adolescent with terminal respiratory failure. While fully ventilated, the patient was kept sedated and comfortable but when breathing spontaneously he was capable of non-verbal communication and understanding. Once resedated and reintubated, intense debate ensued over whether to wake the patient to tell him he was going to die. The authors discuss the ethical arguments that surrounded their decision.
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