The University of Chicago Medicine - Comer Children's Hospital

Department of Pediatrics 2017 Annual Report

Community Health Medical Ethics

Jill C. Glick, MD

We’re tackling pediatric ethics within and beyond the hospital walls

Given the increasing number of sports-related concussions in children and the pediatrician’s front-line role in treatment, should we be counseling families against letting their children play tackle football and ice hockey? And would we let our own children play full contact sports?

These are issues being addressed by Lainie Friedman Ross, MD, PhD, associate director of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics; Michael Fishman, a medical student at the Pritzker School of Medicine; and collaborators. In an electronic survey distributed to members of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section of Bioethics; Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention; and Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, Ross and colleagues found that 77 percent of respondents would not allow their hypothetical son to play tackle football. Of these respondents, only 48 percent were in support of counseling against youth participation in full-contact sports.

At minimum, it seems appropriate to tell parents that over three-quarters of pediatricians would not let their own child play full contact sports.

~ Lainie Friedman Ross, MD, PhD

These findings are in sharp contrast to data from another study led by Ross with medical student Eleanor Taranto. They surveyed adults in parks throughout Chicago as well as at the University of Chicago Medicine and discovered that approximately half of these adults said they would permit their hypothetical 10-year-old son to play, but 74 percent felt it was appropriate for physicians to counsel against youth participation in full contact sports.

Siv Sjursen, RN, Lainie Friedman Ross, MD, PhD, Marin Arnolds, MD, and K. Sarah Hoehn, MD, MBe   

Reviewing both studies, Ross comments, “At minimum, it seems appropriate to tell parents that over three-quarters of pediatricians would not let their own child play, even as we complete the sports physical and let the family make the final decision.”

Medical ethics issues like these are at the center of the PRIME (Pediatric Research in Medical Ethics) group. Led by Ross, the group includes faculty members and nurses from Pediatric Intensive Care, Neonatology, Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, and Academic Pediatrics. Other group members are exploring ethical and policy questions raised by issues such as extreme prematurity, organ donation, research enrolling children and professionalism in pediatrics.

“Our aim is to be proactive about the ethical and policy questions raised by new technologies and evolving knowledge so that we can effectively promote our patients’ well-being both at Comer Children’s Hospital and in the community,” says Ross.

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