Paternalism in the neonatal intensive care unit

Two factors are discussed which have important implications for the issue of paternalism in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU): the physician's role as advocate for the patient; and the range of typical responses of parents who learn that their neonate has a serious illness. These factors are pertinent to the task of identifying those actions which are paternalistic, as well as to the question of whether paternalism is justified. It is argued that certain behavior by physicians which is often thought to be paternalistic is not in fact so. Furthermore, an argument in defense of paternalism which has largely been overlooked is presented. Examples are given to illustrate how paternalism actually arises in the NICU, and it is argued that paternalism is justified in some cases.
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