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Parents describe their spiritual needs when facing a child's death

A survey of parents indicates that they not only want the best medical care, but also need spiritual care when facing the death of a child. The findings, published in the September issue of Pediatrics, indicate that spiritual/religious support is helpful to many parents in making end-of-life decisions for their child, in finding meaning in their loss, and for emotional sustenance.

The study was led by Rev. Mary Robinson, MA, MDiv, of Children's Hospital Boston's Chaplaincy, and Elaine Meyer, PhD, RN, director of Children's Program to Enhance Relational and Communication Skills (PERCS), which helps clinicians practice difficult conversations with parents. They administered anonymous questionnaires to 56 parents whose children had died in one of three pediatric intensive care units (ICUs) in Boston after the parents decided to withdraw life-sustaining therapies.

The deceased children ranged in age from newborn to 18 years, and represented the full range of medical and surgical diagnoses. Parents completed the questionnaires 12 to 45 months after their child's death.

The researchers focused on five open-ended questions: 1) What was most helpful to you in getting through the time at the end of your child's life?; 2) What was least helpful?; 3) How can the hospital staff improve their communication with parents at this difficult time?; 4) What advice do you have for hospital staff members in helping parents during this difficult time?; and 5) What advice do you have for other parents who are facing a similar situation?

Although not asked explicitly about religion or spirituality, 73 percent of parents offered religious/spiritual responses when describing what had been most helpful to them and what advice they would give other parents. Four spiritual/religious themes emerged:

  • Prayer ("Be strong and pray" was a typical response)
  • Faith ("Put your faith in God" was a typical response)
  • Access to cle
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Contact: James Newton
james.newton@childrens.harvard.edu
617-355-6420
Children's Hospital Boston
5-Sep-2006


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