It's a situation too agonizing to contemplate — a child dying and in pain. Now a small but provocative study suggests doctors may be giving fatal morphine doses to a few children dying of cancer.
A handful of parents told researchers that they had asked doctors to hasten their children's deaths — and that doctors complied, using high doses of the powerful painkiller.
The study's lead author and other physicians said they doubt doctors are engaged in mercy killing. Instead, they speculate parents' mistakenly believed doctors had followed their wishes.
It's more likely that doctors increased morphine doses to ease pain and that the children's subsequent deaths were coincidental, said lead author Joanne Wolfe, a palliative pain specialist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children's Hospital in Boston.
Most doctor groups oppose mercy killing but say withholding life-prolonging treatment for dying patients can be ethical.
The study, based on interviews with parents of 141 children who had died of cancer and were treated in Boston and Minnesota, was published Monday in the March edition of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.