Parents vs. Doctors: Who Makes the Call With Children on Life Support?

hospital bedThere’s a well-known saying about motherhood, that having children is like watching a piece of your heart walk around outside of your body. These little people that demand our time and energy and sometimes drive us up the wall are also the most precious people in our lives.

When our kids are little, they depend on us for everything, and when they’re sick, we do all that we can to help them get better. I know I’ve made the late-night trek to urgent care and then to the 24-hour pharmacy more than once with a tiny sick person.


I’m grateful that I’ve never had to deal with childhood illness other than a high fever or projectile vomiting (yuck, by the way), but some moms aren’t so fortunate. Laura Nieves’ 2-year-old Zody Cervantes had meningitis and suffered a seizure in an emergency room two months ago. He’s currently on life support, being treated for severe brain damage.

Laura claims that the doctors at Rady’s Children’s Hospital in San Diego twice told her that they would be taking Zody off of the machines that are keeping him alive. Both times she said that she did not give her consent, and she even posted signs near his bed stating that she did not give her permission to take her son off of life support.

She recalled to NBC 7 San Diego a conversation in which a hospital staff member told her that they didn’t need her consent. Chief Medical Officer Buzz Kaufman, M.D. said that while he was not part of the conversation, it wasn’t part of the hospital’s plan to remove Zody from life support. “I've been here 40 years and, in my experience, we've never done that,” he told the news team.

Here’s the scary part: Apparently the hospital staff member was correct about the not needing parental consent. Citing 1983 California court case “Doherty v. Superior Court,” San Diego County Medical Society’s Ted Mazer, M.D. said there’s no legal precedent requiring parents’ permission to take children off life support. In that case, two doctors confirmed that the child was brain dead, the court appointed a legal guardian to the child, and life support was removed. 

According to Laura, Zody has been improving, responding to touch and voices. “I couldn't be happier. After seeing all the movements and I know there's going to be a lot more progress,” she said. I hope she’s right.

Do you think there’s ever a case where doctors should end life support for a child against the parents’ wishes?

Image via slightly everything/Flickr

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