[Intellectual disability and cancer in children: An analysis of the decision-making process]

Bull Cancer. 2021 Sep;108(9):813-826. doi: 10.1016/j.bulcan.2021.02.013. Epub 2021 Jun 24.
[Article in French]


Aim: The aim was to describe and to analyze the ethics of decision-making in situations involving children with intellectual disability and cancer, from the referent-doctor's point-of-view, in pediatric oncology units in France.

Methods: Pediatricians working in pediatric oncology units were interviewed through an online questionnaire and a semi-directive interview was systematically proposed. We analyzed the ethical issues that arose during the process of decision-making and we made suggestions in order to address them.

Results: Sixteen doctors reported twenty-one clinical cases. Of these cases, one third of the children had a change in their oncologic treatment, with a risk of pejorative outcome on the prognosis. Despite the fact that ethical issues appeared in 80 % of the cases, there were few consultations with ethical committees. Decision-making process showed no difference compared to children without intellectual disability, thus raising ethical issues in the medical team. Our study showed discrepancy between frequently reported ethical issues, high consensus rate regarding treatment decision and lack of consultation with ethical committees.

Discussion: We propose three steps to guide the decision-making process in situations involving children with intellectual disability and cancer: 1/deeper understanding of the child through reinforced interactions with their caregivers, 2/better cross-boundary discussions, to improve the effectiveness of the multidisciplinary staff, and 3/more systematic ethical committees consultation.

Keywords: Cancer; Children; Decision-making; Décision médicale; Déficience intellectuelle; Ethics; Intellectual disability; Pediatrics; Pédiatrie; Éthique.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bioethical Issues
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Clinical Decision-Making / ethics*
  • Clinical Decision-Making / methods
  • Consensus
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Disabled Children*
  • Ethics Committees, Clinical / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • France
  • Health Care Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intellectual Disability* / complications
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Palliative Care
  • Patient Care Team
  • Risk Assessment
  • Truth Disclosure
  • Young Adult