Stories about: medical ethics

“Doctor, what would you do if it was your child?”

By Bob Truog, MD, Senior Associate in Critical Care Medicine, Boston Children’s Hospital

Doctors are often asked what treatment options they would opt for if their patient was their own child.

Perhaps the most gratifying question I am ever asked as a pediatrician is, “Doctor, if this were your child, what would you do?” So often today, being a physician can feel like being a technician—parents come in believing they already know their child’s diagnosis from their Internet search. They know what tests they want me to order and what prescriptions they want me to write.

But when they ask me this question, it’s as if our relationship is transformed. They are telling me that they trust and value my opinion; they want my best judgment as a doctor and as a person. Indeed, throughout my training as a pediatrician, my teachers always told me to treat my patients as if they were my own children, and this is a standard I have always tried to live up to.

I think that parents often take comfort in asking the question as well. They are inviting the physician to think of the relationship as a partnership, more than just a process. Particularly in the intensive care unit, where I work, parents must often make extraordinarily difficult decisions for their critically ill children. In these cases, I think it may be helpful for them to think that we are making the decisions together—I am there to take some of the burden off their shoulders.

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