A Life Below the Threshold? Examining Conflict Between Ethical Principles and Parental Values In Neonatal Treatment Decision Making

Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics 6 (1) (2016)
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Three common ethical principles for establishing the limits of parental authority in pediatric treatment decision making are the harm principle, the principle of best interest, and the threshold view. This paper consider how these principles apply to a case of a premature neonate with multiple significant comorbidities whose mother wanted all possible treatments, and whose health care providers wondered whether it would be ethically permissible to allow him to die comfortably despite her wishes. Whether and how these principles help to understand what was morally right for the child is questioned. The paper concludes that the principles were of some value in understanding the moral geography of the case, but that the case reveals common bioethical principles for medical decision making are problematically value-laden because they are inconsistent with the widespread moral value of medical vitalism.

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Thomas V. Cunningham
Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles


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