Parental experiences in end-of-life decision-making in allogeneic pediatric stem cell transplantation: "Have I been a good parent?"

Hilda Mekelenkamp, Arjan C Lankester, Marc B Bierings, Frans J W Smiers, Martine C de Vries, Marijke C Kars

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BACKGROUND: In pediatric hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), the end-of-life (EOL) phase and the loss of the child is often characterized by a sudden deterioration of the child following a period of intensive curative treatment. This demands a fast transition for parents. Therefore, an understanding of the parents' perspective on decision-making in such a complex situation is needed. This study aims to gain insight in parental experiences in EOL decision-making in allogeneic pediatric HSCT.

METHODS: A qualitative descriptive study was performed among parents of eight families. Data were thematically analyzed.

RESULTS: All parents were aware of their child's deterioration. Six families were confronted with a rapid deterioration, while two families experienced a gradual realization that their child would not survive. Parental EOL decision-making in pediatric HSCT shows a reflective perspective on the meaning of parenthood in EOL decision-making. Two central themes were identified: "survival-oriented decision-making" and "struggling with doubts in hindsight." Six subthemes within the first theme described the parents' goal of doing everything to achieve survival.

DISCUSSION: Parents experienced EOL decision-making mainly as a process guided by health care professionals (HCPs) based on the child's condition and treatment possibilities. The decision-making is characterized by following opportunities and focusing on hope for cure. In hindsight parents experienced doubts about treatment steps and their child's suffering. HCPs can strengthen the parental role by an early integration of palliative care, providing timely support to parents in the process of imminent loss. Advance care planning can be used to support communication processes, defining preferences for future care.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere28229
Number of pages8
JournalPediatric Blood & Cancer
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


  • decision-making
  • end-of-life
  • experiences
  • hematopoietic stem cell transplantation
  • parental
  • pediatric


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