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Comforting the Parents by Administering Neuromuscular Blockers to the Dying Child: A Conflict Between Ethics and Law?

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Abstract

When the decision has been made to stop treatment of a newborn child with a bad prognosis, the child usually dies in a short time. Sometimes, however, gasping occurs, and although it is usually thought that this is not a sign of suffering, the parents can hardly fail to interpret it as such. Could that be a reason to administer muscle relaxants to the child? It would not harm the child and may greatly benefit the parents. So it seems the humane thing to do.

Legally, however, the action would count as killing, and the prohibition of killing normally implies a denial of the authority to decide on exceptions, which should be understood as a protection of public trust.

I discuss three ways of arguing why the law, nevertheless, should allow for an exception in this case. The discussion identifies and describes this kind of conflict, and shows how to evaluate proposals for solving it, using a particularly clear exemplary case by way of illustration.

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