Braving difficult choices alone: children's and adolescents' medical decision making.
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OBJECTIVE: What role should minors play in making medical decisions? The authors examined children's and adolescents' desire to be involved in serious medical decisions and the emotional consequences associated with them. METHODS: Sixty-three children and 76 adolescents were presented with a cover story about a difficult medical choice. Participants were tested in one of four conditions: (1) own informed choice; (2) informed parents' choice to amputate; (3) informed parents' choice to continue a treatment; and (4) uninformed parents' choice to amputate. In a questionnaire, participants were asked about their choices, preference for autonomy, confidence, and emotional reactions when faced with a difficult hypothetical medical choice. RESULTS: Children and adolescents made different choices and participants, especially adolescents, preferred to make the difficult choice themselves, rather than having a parent make it. Children expressed fewer negative emotions than adolescents. Providing information about the alternatives did not affect participants' responses. CONCLUSIONS: Minors, especially adolescents, want to be responsible for their own medical decisions, even when the choice is a difficult one. For the adolescents, results suggest that the decision to be made, instead of the agent making the decision, is the main element influencing their emotional responses and decision confidence. For children, results suggest that they might be less able than adolescents to project how they would feel. The results, overall, draw attention to the need to further investigate how we can better involve minors in the medical decision-making process.
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