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Lay people's and health professionals’ views about breaking bad news to children




Bad health news is difficult to communicate, especially when parents must give bad news to their children.


We had 170 lay persons, 33 nurses and six physicians in Toulouse, France, judge the appropriateness of the parents’ behaviour in 64 scenarios of parents dealing with this problem. The scenarios were composed according to a four within-subject orthogonal design: child's age (4, 6, 8 or 10), severity of disease (lethal or worrisome but curable), child's concern or not about his illness and parents’ decision about communicating the news (tell nothing, minimize, tell the truth or ask the physician to tell the truth).


Cluster analysis revealed four clusters, labelled ‘Always Tell the Truth’ (33%, including a majority of doctors and nurses), ‘Tell Nothing or Minimize’ (16%, with an older average age), ‘Tell the Truth Except in Cases of Incurable Illness’ (22%) and ‘Depends on Child's Characteristics’ (29%).


Physicians in training and in practice need to be aware that lay people – and likely parents as well – have diverse and complex opinions about when and how parents should give bad health news to their children.