Delineating paternalism in pediatric care

Paternalism in the medical care of children is appropriate and ethically justifiable. However, dilemmatic disagreement by paternalistic agents as to which clinical choice is in the child's best interest may occur because of the underlying conflict between two rival standards for the moral value of life: longevity versus quality. Neither standard is unreasonable. Either could be the basis for choice of medical care by the parents or by the pediatrician. Having the child choose between options disputed by his parents and the pediatrician is unlikely to resolve their conflict. Exercise of informed consent by the adolescent requires agreement by his parents to relinquish their paternalistic veto. The probable best-interest choice by the child when he has matured could be reasonably made from either standard. Therefore, the longevity/quality of life question ought not ordinarily to be foreclosed by paternalistic authority which opts for one standard to the exclusion of the other. Medical interventions, paternalistically determined, are justified in the face of deteriorating quality, but only as long as the interventions themselves do not cause deterioration. Application of this limitation of paternalism to the zone of agreement between the rival life standards is made to clinical case examples. Multiple extrinsic criteria may measure the quality of life. Three quality factors, sensation of pain, capacity to communicate and physical functioning are considered. The extent of the zone of agreement between the two life standards varies because quality of life is a relative good, contingent both upon which extrinsic criteria are selected to assess it and upon the priorities which are set among these criteria.
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