Discussing end-of-life issues in an adolescent with a terminal illness


Discussing end-of-life issues in an adolescent with a terminal illness


Chia S Y


Cogent Medicine. Conference: 11th Annual Excellence in Pediatrics Conference. Denmark.




adolescent; advance care planning; end-of-life; terminal illness


Introduction: Adolescent palliative care is especially challenging because of complex developmental, social, clinical, and legal concerns. In adolescents with life-limiting illnesses, developmental tasks of normal adolescence such as developing an awareness of self and others, gaining selfconfidence, independence, and establishing one's own identity are halted. The difficulty lies in balancing the desire to gain independence while experiencing greater dependence on others as their disease progress. Purpose(s): This review discusses the multi-faceted barriers in discussion of end-of-life care with the adolescent and strategies to optimize this discussions. Case description: This case is about a wheelchair-bound 14-year-old boy with Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), and challenges faced discussing end-of-life issues. His condition was complicated by restrictive lung disease requiring nocturnal Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) and dilated cardiomyopathy with severely reduced biventricular systolic function. His parents did not want the patient's deteriorating condition to be divulged to him, and he struggled to make sense of his medical experiences. This resulted in non-compliance to medication, fluid restriction, and nocturnal use of BIPAP, exacerbating a vicious circle of admissions for fluid overload due to symptomatic congestive cardiac failure. He had difficulty coming to terms with his illness, felt like a burden to his parents, struggled with frequent nightmares about death, and would wake up in a state of panic. Advanced Care Planning (ACP) with the family was challenging due to parental resistance. Results/Discussion: We reviewed the literature and identified challenges in discussing end-of-life issues with the adolescent. Perspectives from main stakeholders such as the parents, the adolescent, and the medical professionals were evaluated. Key strategies for taking on the end-of-life discussion with the adolescent are as follows: (1) Employing a multidisciplinary team approach for supporting decision-making by dying adolescent, including the physician, nurse, psychologist, social worker, and child life specialist; (2) overcoming parental barriers through physician truthtelling and effective communication, and breaking-down of parental self-defense mechanisms through psychosocial support and pediatric palliative care teams; (3) engaging the adolescent and determining their functional competence and decision-making ability; and (4) integrating truthtelling with modern bioethical principles. Conclusion(s): Our clinical case exemplifies the importance of involving the adolescent in the end-oflife discussion. Early involvement establishes trust between the medical team and the family, whilst providing control and independence as the adolescent's needs are incorporated into the treatment plan. As physicians, the aim is to engage the above strategies together with the multidisciplinary team, preserve opportunities for the adolescent and family to create meaningful legacies, say goodbye to each other, or find spiritual peace in end-of-life care.


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July 2020 List



Chia S Y, “Discussing end-of-life issues in an adolescent with a terminal illness,” Pediatric Palliative Care Library, accessed August 10, 2022, https://pedpalascnetlibrary.omeka.net/items/show/17128.

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