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Dominic Wilkinson suggests that one of Schubert’s songs has relevance for neonatologists today. In the song, Schubert suggests that death sometimes comes as a friend. Wilkinson ponders whether the song has a message for doctors and parents, who sometimes struggle to figure out whether death is an enemy or a friend to a dying baby.
Wilkinson reflects on the case of baby ‘Hal’, who was born with serious cardiomyopathy. Hal’s parents and doctors disagree about whether to withdraw life-support. Through his recreations of their discussions, Wilkinson shows how hard it is to confront—and maybe even welcome—death for a child. While adults often frame their own decision to forego life-sustaining treatment with thoughts that they have lived a good life, death in childhood can seem unfair because it robs the child of their opportunity to live a good or completed life. Much as we try, we cannot really imagine what a critically ill neonate experiences or desires.
We have very little insight into Hal’s interests or subjective experience. Without direct access to the child’s experience, it is impossible to know whether, like an adult, a child would choose to allow death to occur. We cannot verify the claim that the child’s death was good in the sense that it was good for them.
Wilkinson proposes that a prolonged dying process …
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 Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.