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Public views about quality of life and treatment withdrawal in infants: limitations and directions for future research
  1. Ryan H. Nelson
  1. Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ryan H. Nelson, Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030, USA; Ryan.Nelson{at}bcm.edu

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Work done within the realm of what is sometimes called ‘descriptive ethics’ brings two questions readily to mind: How can empirical findings, in general, inform normative debates? and How can these empirical findings, in particular, inform the normative debate at hand? Brick et al1 confront these questions in their novel investigation of public views about lives worth living and the permissibility of withdrawing life-sustaining treatment from critically ill infants. Mindful of the is-ought gap, the authors suggest modestly that their data ‘may be useful when constructing guidelines for clinical practice’. In this commentary, I consider some potential limitations on the generalisability of these data in the context of policy and clinical practice, limitations which may in turn serve as directions for future empirical research.

The authors’ study presented participants six case scenarios, five of which involved the possibility of withdrawing life-sustaining treatment from critically ill infants. The results revealed that “[a]lmost all respondents agreed that at some level of quality of life, life may be of no benefit or worse than death for an infant” and that “participants significantly favoured withdrawal of treatment for the most severe cases.”

One salient detail in these scenarios …

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