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Three scenarios illustrating ethical concerns when considering bariatric surgery in obese adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome
  1. Maria Luisa Di Pietro,
  2. Drieda Zaçe
  1. Sezione di Igiene, Dipartimento Universitario di Scienze della Vita e Sanità Pubblica, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Rome, Italy
  1. Correspondence to Dr Drieda Zaçe, Sezione di Igiene, Dipartimento Universitario Scienze della Vita e Sanità Pubblica, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Rome 00168, Italy; drieda.zace{at}


Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) is one of the 25 syndromic forms of obesity, in which patients present—in addition to different degrees of obesity—intellectual disability, endocrine disturbs, hyperphagia and/or other signs of hypothalamic dysfunction. In front of a severe/extreme obesity and the failure of non-invasive treatments, bariatric surgery is proposed as a therapeutic option. The complexity of the clinical condition, which could affect the long-term effects of bariatric surgery, and the frequent association with a mild to severe intellectual disability raise some ethical concerns in the treatment of obese PWS adolescents. This article analyses these issues referring to the principles of healthcare ethics: beneficence/non-maleficence (proportionality of treatments; minimisation of risks); respect of autonomy; justice. Based on these principles, three hypothetical scenarios are defined: (1) obese PWS adolescent, capable of making an autonomous decision; (2) obese PWS adolescent with a severe intellectual disability, whose parents agree with bariatric surgery; (3) obese PWS adolescent with a life-threatening condition and a severe intellectual disability, whose parents do not agree with bariatric surgery. The currently available evidence on efficacy and safety of bariatric surgery in PWS adolescents with extreme or severe obesity and the lack of adequate long-term follow-up suggests great caution even in a very life-threatening condition. Clinicians must always obtain a full IQ assessment of patients by psychologists. A multidisciplinary team is needed to analyse the clinical, psychological, social and ethical aspects and organise support for patient and parents, involving also the hospital ethical committee or, if necessary, legal authorities.

  • surgery
  • minors/parental consent
  • clinical ethics
  • autonomy

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  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it was first published online. The affiliation of the authors has been updated.

  • Contributors MLDP contributed to the conception, design of the work, writing the article and critically revising it. DZ contributed to writing the article. Both authors approved the final version of the article.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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