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Deciding when a life is not worth living: An imperative to measure what matters
  1. Monica E Lemmon
  1. Pediatrics, Duke Medicine, Durham, NC 27710, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Monica E Lemmon, Pediatrics, Duke Medicine, Durham, NC 27710, USA; monica.lemmon{at}

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As a neonatal neurologist, I serve families facing tragic decisions in which they must balance trade-offs between death and life with profound disability. I often find myself in complex discussions about future outcome, in which families sort through in real-time what information they value most in making such a choice. Will he laugh? Will he be in pain? Will he know how much he’s loved? In this month’s feature article, Brick et al share the results of an online survey aimed at assessing public views on when a life is not worth living, in an effort to inform ongoing legal and clinical debates about withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment for children. These findings raise important questions about how we define and measure outcomes that matter to parents as they make these tragic decisions.

It is challenging to interpret these findings in the absence of context of how decision-making for infants occurs in real-time. The nature of this study and its objective required that cases be substantially simplified. As the authors acknowledge, the prognoses and function of the children involved in these cases were often deeply contested. Prognostic uncertainty is common for children with significant …

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  • Contributors ML drafted and revised this manuscript.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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