Valuing life and evaluating suffering in infants with life-limiting illness


Valuing life and evaluating suffering in infants with life-limiting illness


Wilkinson D; Zayegh A


Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics




Quality of life; Withholding treatment; Cognition disorders; Infancy; Newborns; Value of life


In this paper, we explore three separate questions that are relevant to assessing the prudential value of life in infants with severe life-limiting illness. First, what is the value or disvalue of a short life? Is it in the interests of a child to save her life if she will nevertheless die in infancy or very early childhood? Second, how does profound cognitive impairment affect the balance of positives and negatives in a child's future life? Third, if the life of a child with life-limiting illness is prolonged, how much suffering will she experience and can any of it be alleviated? Is there a risk that negative experiences for such a child (suffering) will remain despite the provision of palliative care? We argue that both the subjective and objective components of well-being for children could be greatly reduced if they are anticipated to have a short life that is affected by profound cognitive impairment. This does not mean that their overall well-being will be negative, but rather that there may be a higher risk of negative overall well-being if they are expected to experience pain, discomfort, or distress. Furthermore, we point to some of the practical limitations of therapies aimed at relieving suffering, such that there is a risk that suffering will go partially or completely unrelieved. Taken together, these considerations imply that some life-prolonging treatments are not in the best interests of infants with severe life-limiting illness.


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Citation List Month

February 2021 List



Wilkinson D; Zayegh A, “Valuing life and evaluating suffering in infants with life-limiting illness,” Pediatric Palliative Care Library, accessed August 9, 2022,

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