Children do not have to die painfully in hospitals: Study

SINGAPORE - A recently published study has shone a spotlight on children dying painfully in hospitals, pointing out that it does not have to be this way.

For 68 children under the age of 19 here who died from an illness between 2008 and 2009, in very few cases were their families offered the option of having their child die at home peacefully.

Only half of those dying of cancer were even referred for palliative care.

According to previous studies, parents of eight out of 10 dying children would choose to take their child home if possible.

The study, conducted by researchers from KK Women's & Children's Hospital (KKH) and HCA Hospice Care, concluded that more can be done to improve the care given to critically ill children.

The study said that a dying child can be taken care of at home, even if medical equipment like respirators are required.

Some parents may fear taking the child away from hospitals may risk affecting the child's chances of survival, or shy away from the thought of caring for the child alone without the help of medical professionals.

However, lead researcher Chong Poh Heng assured parents that the children will continue to receive visits from doctors, nurses and social workers.

Moving them home has the benefit of giving the child more chances to spend the little time they have left with their loved ones, he added.

Doctors and parents can also take action to seek palliative care for a dying child earlier, instead of waiting till the very end.

Dr Chong said that many children die 'invisibly' because of the unwillingness of both parents and health care staff to talk about the potential of death.

While it is a fact that about 300 children die in Singapore every year, most people continue to link palliative care to the elderly.

However, researchers did find that things were brighter on the subject of advance care planning.

Most families were informed when their child's illness was critical, and were consulted on how to manage their care, such as invoking a 'do not resuscitate' order to spare the dying more pain.