2011 Canadian Medical Association or its licensors
CMAJ 2011. DOI:10.1503/cmaj.109-3932
Annie Farlow was just short of three months old when she died in an Ontario hospital of what her parents believe might have been a treatable respiratory condition.
Born with the chromosome disorder Trisomy 13, Annie had little chance of surviving to her teens, but her parents, Barbara and Tim Farlow, took comfort in the hospital’s assurance that her disorder wouldn’t preclude her from receiving the same level of care as any other child with a medical condition.
But months after Annie’s death, the Farlows discovered that physicians had not initiated emergency resuscitation measures with the same alacrity as in other cases. They also learned that a physician had placed a “do not resuscitate” order on Annie’s chart without their consent. Subsequently, their daughter received an undisclosed quantity of narcotics that, in their opinion, may have caused her “unexplained, rapid” decline.
The circumstances surrounding Annie’s death have the Farlows asking questions that plague Canadian patient advocates, health care workers, ethicists and policy-makers faced with a growing scarcity of resources: When is it appropriate to limit or withdraw potentially beneficial treatment? How should decisions be made? Who should make them?
“I never took the position that my daughter had a right to any and all treatments, but the unilateral decisions we believe the doctors made should have been made transparently. We have a right to know and appeal the limits of the system and be provided with whatever care is possible within its confines,” Barbara Farlow says. “Not only do I believe my daughter was denied a chance to prolong her life, the secrecy in which decisions seem to have been made also meant she was denied timely palliative care, and she suffered greatly at the end.”
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