Telling the Truth to Child Cancer Patients in COVID-19 Times

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 17 (4):797-801 (2020)

Abstract

A notable feature of the COVID-19 pandemic is that children are less at risk of becoming infected or, if infected, less likely to become seriously unwell, so ethical discussions have consequently focused on the adult healthcare setting. However, despite a lower risk of children becoming acutely ill with COVID-19, there nevertheless may be significant and potentially sustained effects of COVID-19 on the physical, psychological, and emotional health and well-being of children. Focusing on the context of children’s cancer care, and specifically bone marrow transplant, we describe some of these effects and then address one specific ethical challenge that arises. That is the question of what and how much to tell children whose cancer treatment has been changed because of COVID-19. Drawing on our previous work on the ethical reasons for telling the truth to younger children we link different ethical reasons to the different types of information that could be given to children in this context. We argue that children should be given an explanation of the changes that they will directly experience, including some changes to the process of their actual medical treatment; but not about increased risk associated with these changes, unless they specifically ask for this information.

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