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Fifteen-minute consultation: How to communicate with parents who have a child on life support with no hope of recovery
  1. Annie Swanepoel
  1. CAMHS LD, NELFT NHS Foundation Trust, Chelmsford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Annie Swanepoel, CAMHS LD, NELFT NHS Foundation Trust, Chelmsford, UK; annie.panzer{at}


A child on life support with no hope of recovery is the worst nightmare for parents and for paediatricians. Unfortunately, some children have illnesses or injuries that are not compatible with life. Being in a vegetative state with no meaningful interaction does not safeguard children from feeling discomfort and pain. Letting nature take its course and allowing the child to die may well be the least worse option. However, this decision is fraught with difficulties for parents and for clinicians and can lead to unnecessary and painful conflict between them, even leading to court proceedings. In this paper, the impact of having a child on life support is discussed and recommendations are given in order to improve professional communication. It is hoped that an understanding of the impact on parents, cultural considerations, and the psychiatric concepts of ‘denial’, ‘projection’, the ‘meta-level’, ‘transference’, ‘countertransference’ and the techniques of ‘motivational interviewing’ will help clinicians prevent a breakdown of trust and improve doctor–parent relationships in these tragic cases.

  • Child Psychiatry
  • Ethics
  • Palliative Care
  • Psychology

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.