To explore the ethical challenges posed by patients’ virtual lives, Feudtner and examined a fictional case blending elements of several recent real-life situations.
In this hypothetical case, the parents of a 10-year-old boy hospitalized with cancer started a blog. Doctors, nurses and other hospital staff were among the 1,000 subscribers to his blog.
A year after his hospital stay ended, the boy relapsed, and his parents launched an online petition seeking access to an experimental cancer treatment that was only available through clinical trials. No trials were accepting new patients.
The petition draws 60,000 supporters in just 48 hours, and news crews descend on the hospital.
Aside from the obvious pressure this puts on one team of clinicians at one hospital to help one very sick child, this situation raises broader ethical issues about how treatment decisions should be made.
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