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WMU talk examines ethics of end-of-life care for newborns

by Mark Schwerin

Sept. 28, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of Dr. Joel Frader.
KALAMAZOO--A visiting pediatrician will address the thorny ethical questions involved in end-of-life decisions for newborns when he speaks this week as part of Western Michigan University's Medical Humanities Conference.

Dr. Joel Frader, physician, professor of pediatrics and professor of medical humanities and bioethics at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, will speak at 8 a.m. Friday, Sept. 30, in the auditorium of the Bronson Gilmore Center for Health Education, 7 Healthcare Plaza, in Kalamazoo. His presentation, free and open to the public, is titled "Ethical Decisions in End-of-Life Care for Newborns" and is part of the Medical Humanities Conference and the WMU Center for the Study of Ethics in Society's fall season.

Frader says care at the end of a child's life tends to evoke substantially different challenges from those encountered in adult hospice and palliative care, with most people in the developed world having a strong adverse reaction to the potential death of a child. He will review available information about the psychosocial impact of parent and child involvement in end-of-life decisions, medical and religious views about stopping fluids and nutrition, the expertise of pediatric palliative care practitioners and ethical issues raised by claims of medical futility on the one hand and claims of conscience-based objections to modes of care on the other.

In general, Frader argues for a truthful approach to end-of-life care, including developmentally appropriate disclosure of prognosis to children and involving them in establishing treatment goals.

Frader's research interests include: end-of-life care for children, especially in intensive care settings; innovation and research in pediatrics, especially as they pertain to surgery and early phase clinical trials; bioethical aspects of transplantation, especially regarding living donors; and allocation of health care resources to services for children. Frader holds a graduate degree in sociology and has a special interest and expertise in qualitative social science methods.

Frader has served on the Committee on Bioethics of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which he chaired for four years, and on the Committee on Ethics of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. He was elected to two terms on the board, including one as president, of the Society for Health and Human Values, now the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities, and on various federal study sections, data and safety monitoring committees and advisory panels, including those pertaining to ethical aspects of research on human subjects.

Frader is chief of the Division of General Academic Pediatrics at Children's Memorial Hospital. His clinical activities involve supervision of care of acutely ill hospitalized children and palliative/hospice care for children.

Frader's talk is co-sponsored by the Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies and the WMU Medical Humanities Workgroup.

More information is available online at or