At the Intersection of Faith, Culture, and Family Dynamics: A Complex Case of Refusal of Treatment for Childhood Cancer


Amy E. Caruso Brown, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 28, no. 3 (Fall 2017): 228-35.


    Refusing treatment for potentially curable childhood cancers engenders much discussion and debate. I present a case in which the competent parents of a young Amish child with acute myeloid leukemia deferred authority for decision making to the child’s maternal grandfather, who was vocal in his opposition to treatment. I analyze three related concerns that distinguish this case from other accounts of refused treatment.

    First, I place deference to grandparents as decision makers in the context of surrogate decision making more generally.

    Second, the maternal grandfather’s ardent refusal of treatment and his rationale appeared to be inconsistent with the beliefs expressed by other family members and by members of the same Amish community, leading members of the medical team to question whether refusal of treatment should be treated differently when it appears to be based on the idiosyncratic beliefs of an individual rather than on community-wide values.

    Third, the medical team perceived tension and dissension between the nonverbal behavior of some family members and the verbal statements made by the maternal grandfather, leading the team to question the parents’ true wishes and debate how to weigh nonverbal and indirect forms of communication.

    Finally, building upon the conclusions of these queries, I explore whether, if the child’s prognosis was less favorable or if he were to relapse later, the maternal grandfather should have been permitted to drive a decision to refuse further treatment.


Purchasers receive a full-text .pdf file of the article to view, download, and/or print.

Access to the online .pdf will send when the purchaser closes the .pdf.