Parent Refusal of Life-Saving Treatments

Family plays an important role in every aspect of a person’s life including healthcare. On the one hand, the family can provide the necessary support for patients and have a positive impact on treatment compliance, which is frequently used as a tool of impact on the patients’ decision by healthcare professionals. On the other hand, family members are not always competent in health care issues and can negatively influence the treatment process. The situation can get even more serious when parents decide for their children. For example, there are cases when parents refuse vitally important treatment, such as treatment for adolescent cancer patients in China (Hui, 2008).

In the cases under consideration, the families follow a patriarchal structure, which is typical of Confucianism. This type of family has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages of patriarchal families include such qualities as stability and the developed feeling of patriotism. Stability is characteristic of patriarchal families and is provided by the accepted organization of the family and division of duties. Thus, it is accepted that the father makes the decisions, earns money, and decides on their distribution. Mother is usually inferior and takes care of home and children. Also, patriarchal families are useful for governments because men are traditionally more patriotic than women as well as less emotional. Therefore, it is easier to preserve political power in patriarchal societies. Nevertheless, there are evident disadvantages of patriarchal families. Women in this type of family are inferior, have fewer rights and opportunities than men. Therefore, they can suffer from unrealized potential and be less happy. In a more global sense, the men who make decisions for the whole family, are frequently not competent in every issue they consider. Therefore, there is a risk of wrong decisions, which can have unpredictable consequences.

Decision-making is important for adolescents. This period of life is characterized by increasing independence and a growing desire to decide for themselves (Hartley & Somerville, 2015). However, when it comes to serious medical decisions, adolescents may need some guidance. They may be not aware of the consequences of their decisions, and it is the task of parents to explain the situation and outline the possible outcomes. In case the parents are not competent, it is possible to involve a nurse or a physician for the consultation. Still, it is important that adolescent patients made decisions for themselves. The only variants when parental interference is justified are the cases of life threat or inability of adolescents to make decisions consciously.

Both case studies under analysis prove that parents do not always act in the best interests of their children. Both patients could have experienced better outcomes if their parents agreed to the suggested treatment instead of trying folk medicine, which does not have enough evidence of efficiency for cancer. Making such decisions, the fathers probably satisfied their cultural ambitions, which are particularly strong among the Chinese people (Giger, 2013). Nevertheless, these decisions led to poor patient outcomes and complications for one patient and caused the death of another one.

In such situations, if I were a patient’s parent, I would follow the doctor’s advice and agree to surgery and further treatment because in case of cancer every day can be decisive for the treatment success. If I were a representative of the healthcare facility, I would do my best to persuade the parents to continue the treatment and do not risk applying folk medicine practices. These cases are examples of religious beliefs and cultural peculiarities, which interfere with the care of a patient. Moreover, they imply an ethical dilemma for healthcare professionals similar to that of blood transfusion, which is not allowed in some cultures and can cost a child’s life (Hirani, 2018). Certainly, it is essential to consider the cultural and religious peculiarities, but it is also crucial to explain to parents the outcomes in case of treatment refusal.


Giger, J. (2013). Transcultural nursing: Assessment and intervention (6th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Mosby.

Hartley, C., & Somerville, L. (2015). The neuroscience of adolescent decision-making. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 5, 108-115. Web.

Hirani, S. A. A. (2018). Respecting parent’s cultural beliefs or saving child’s life: An ethical dilemma surrounding blood transfusion. Progressing Aspects in Pediatrics and Neonatology, 1(1), 1-4.

Hui, E. (2008). Parental refusal of life-saving treatments for adolescents: Chinese familism in medical decision-making re-visited. Bioethics, 22(5), 286-295. Web.