Background: Bone marrow transplantation has been shown to cure sickle cell disease, but it carries a 15 percent mortality risk. To determine whether parents would accept this risk to cure their children of sickle cell disease, we interviewed parents of children with sickle cell disease who were being followed in a university hospital clinic.
Methods: We assessed parents' attitudes by using questions based on the standard reference-gamble paradigm. After we gave them descriptions of bone marrow transplantation and graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), the parents were presented with a series of hypothetical situations. In the first situation, bone marrow transplantation was described as offering certain (100 percent) survival with cure of sickle cell disease. In subsequent descriptions, the mortality rate associated with bone marrow transplantation was increased by 5 percent increments. The parents indicated the highest mortality risk at which they would consent to the procedure in order to cure their children.
Results: In order to obtain a cure for their children, 36 of 67 parents (54 percent) were willing to accept some risk of short-term mortality, 25 of 67 (37 percent) were willing to accept at least the 15 percent short-term mortality risk we estimate to be the current figure for bone marrow transplantation, and 8 of 67 (12 percent) were willing to accept a short-term mortality risk of 50 percent or more. Nine parents (13 percent) said they would accept both a mortality risk of 15 percent or more and an additional 15 percent risk of GVHD. The parents' decisions were not related to the clinical severity of their children's illness.
Conclusions: At current rates of mortality and morbidity with bone marrow transplantation, a substantial minority of the parents of children with sickle cell disease may consent to bone marrow transplantation for their children. Parental attitudes should be factored into decisions about whether to offer bone marrow transplantation to children with sickle cell disease.