When a Child Needs a Transplant but Lacks Familial Social Support

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DOI: 10.1542/peds.2018-1551


We present the case of a 19-month-old boy with complex congenital heart disease. His single father is skeptical of traditional medicine and does not offer the social support needed to make heart transplantation successful for his son. After the father demonstrates commitment to transplant success and provides enhanced social support, doctors place the child on a Berlin Heart (a biventricular assist device) as a bridge to transplantation and list him for transplant. When the child is matched to a donor heart, the father refuses transplantation, despite that it is the child's only chance for survival. His doctors report the case to child protective services, but they decline to take protective custody. The father then changes his mind and asks that the child be put back on the waiting list for transplant. By this time, the social supports the father implemented are no longer in place. This case raises a number of issues. First, should courts order heart transplantation when doctors believe that it is in the child's best interest and parents do not consent? Second, once parents refuse a transplant, can they change their minds? Third, if there are uncertainties regarding whether the child has the social support to make transplantation successful, should the child be relisted? Finally, should a child who is not currently a transplant candidate but who may become one in the future be supported with ventricular assist devices?

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