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When Frances Sharkey decided on a pediatric specialty in medical school at the beginning of the Sixties, she did so specifically because she believed it would enable her to heal--and only seldom have to watch a child die. Her experience, related here, generally bore out her conviction: oftentimes children who might have died 20 years earlier were saved by antibiotics, vaccinations, and so on. But there were also children entrusted to her care who died of leukemia or other forms of cancer--some humanely, some less so. As a resident in a cancer hospital, she saw a 15-year-old girt die frightened, gasping for breath, begging to be told the truth--which Sharkey denied to her face. The ""best"" way to help children through death, she thought for a while, was to hospitalize them and drug them; she is courageous enough to admit that this is also the ""easiest"" procedure for doctors. But one child changed her mind: David, whose leukemia she fought--and, heartbreakingly, seemed to cure--for five-and-a-half years before he succumbed. By that time Sharkey was so close to David and his family (and so aware of the nuances of the tragedy), that she broke the news to him herself--and let him die at peace, in his home, inexplicably free from most of the pain that should have accompanied his going, This, then, is a plea for children's rights in death, which Sharkey--who changed her mind upon reading Kubler-Ross--closely equates with the rights of adults. Many issues are unexplored here: at what age a child can grasp the meaning of death; how to educate families to facing death with their child; what to do when the child is simply too ill to be cared for in the home. But as a glimpse into the dynamics of a child's death, it's moving and to the point.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1982
Publisher: St. Martin's