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Law, ethics and medicine
Mixed motives, mixed outcomes when accused parents won’t agree to withdraw care


One of the basic tenets of paediatric ethics is that competent parents may render healthcare decisions for children who are too young or too incapacitated to make meaningful medical choices for themselves. In the USA, many jurisdictions have expanded this principle to include the right to terminate a child's life support, including nutrition and hydration, when that child enters a persistent vegetative state. However, this approach to the withdrawal of care in the paediatric setting has been put to the test by an increasing number of cases in which one or both parents are themselves accused of causing the child's life-threatening injuries. In such “mixed-motive” situations, parents may express a desire to keep a child on life support for religious or moral reasons; at the same time, forestalling the child's death may also prevent a murder charge against the accused parent. Principles need to be established for handling such tragic cases.

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