Chicago — It’s a situation too agonizing to contemplate — a child dying and in pain. Now a small but provocative study suggests that doctors may be giving fatal morphine doses to a few children dying of cancer, to end their suffering at their parents’ request.
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 lead author of the study and several other physicians said they doubt doctors are engaged in active mercy killing. Instead, they speculate the parents interviewed for the study mistakenly believed that doctors had followed their wishes.
A more likely scenario is that doctors increased morphine doses to ease pain, and that the children’s subsequent deaths were only coincidental, said lead author Dr. Joanne Wolfe, a palliative pain specialist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children’s Hospital.