Pediatric Pearls: The Death of a Child

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Daniel G., M.D. -

I was taught to baptize a child before he/she dies if the child is younger than the age of baptism. But how do you bring this up to the grieving parents? And should the same be done for miscarriages? Great and valuable discussion. Thank you for that.

ilene c. -

Good question. Not an expert on the details of Catholic ritual, but I'll give you my understanding (with the help of my colleague Genevieve Santillanes)- and certainly invite other listeners to comment as well. I definitely think that is it appears death is likely in a young child, it's appropriate to ask the parents about baptism. If you have time to call a priest, great. If not (according to the chaplain I asked a few years ago), you can make the sign of the cross with water on the forehead and state that you are baptizing the in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. That said, they should be baptized BEFORE death. So, a miscarriage, stillborn, or child who is dead on arrival is not really appropriate (though I'm not above doing useless CPR for a few minutes to get it done). I believe there is a special place for children who die too young to have sinned, and a special prayer for them as well, but the good news is that they are spared if they die too young to have been baptized. In terms of how to bring it up, I usually start the process by updating the parents often on how the child is doing, and with the second update or so, if it looks grim, I ask if there is anyone else they want us to help them call, including clergy. If things look really bad, and clergy is still not there, I think just let them know and ask if they want you to baptize. I can't say I've done it with frequency, but if they've already asked you to call in a chaplain, I suppose it is not such a huge leap to ask (and probably less of a leap than the Jewish doctor doing a baptism!)

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Episode 140 Full episode audio for MD edition 238:22 min - 100 MB - M4AResumen Mayo 2013 en español Español 80:43 min - 28 MB - MP3EM:RAP 2013 May MP3 81 MB - ZIPEM:RAP May 2013 Written Summmary 857 KB - PDFEM:RAP May 2013 Board Review Questions 635 KB - PDFEM:RAP May 2013 Board Review Questions:Answer Sheet 661 KB - PDF