The study authors -- children's intensive care doctors and a hospital chaplain -- said religious beliefs provide vital support to many parents whose children are seriously ill, as well as to the staff who care for them, but the authors say they have become concerned about seriously sick children being subject to aggressive, but ultimately futile, treatment.
The researchers reviewed 203 cases involving end-of-life decisions during a three year period. In 186 of the cases, agreement was reached between parents and healthcare professionals about withdrawing aggressive, but futile, treatment.
In the remaining 17 cases, extended discussions failed to resolve differences of opinion, and parents insisted on continuing full active medical treatment, while doctors had advocated withdrawing or withholding further intensive care on the basis of the overwhelming medical evidence consistent with the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health guidance.
"Eleven of these cases involved directly expressed religious claims that intensive care should not be stopped because of the expectation of divine intervention and a complete cure, together with the conviction that the opinion of the medical team was overly pessimistic and wrong," the study said. "Various different faiths were represented among the parents, including Christian fundamentalism, Islam, Judaism and Roman Catholicism.
"Spending a lifetime attached to a mechanical ventilator, having every bodily function supervised and sanitized by a [caregiver] or relative, leaving no dignity or privacy to the child and then adult, has been argued as inhumane," the researchers argued.
The study was studied in the Journal of Medical Ethics.