Disability or Death: A Focused Review of Informed Consent in Pediatric Neurosurgery

Nathan A. Shlobin, John Paul G. Kolcun, Brian D. Leland, Laurie L. Ackerman, Sandi K. Lam, Jeffrey S. Raskin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The management of pediatric neurosurgical disease often requires families to choose between long-term disability and premature death. This decision-making is codified by informed consent. In practice, decision-making is heavily weighted toward intervening to prevent death, often with less consideration of the realities of long-term disability. We analyze long-term disability in pediatric neurosurgical disease from the perspectives of patients, families, and society. We then present a pragmatic framework and conversational approach for addressing informed consent discussions when the outcome is expected to be death or disability. We performed a focused review of literature regarding informed consent in pediatric neurosurgery by searching PubMed and Google Scholar with search terms including “pediatric neurosurgery,” “informed consent,” and “disability.” The literature was focused on patients with diagnoses including spina bifida, neuro-oncology, trauma, and hydrocephalus. Patient perspective elements were physical/mental disability, lack of autonomy, and role in community/society. The family perspective involves caregiver burden, emotional toll, and financial impact. Societal considerations include the availability of public resources for disabled children, large-scale financial cost, and impacts on global health. Practical conversational steps with patients/caregivers include opening the discussion, information provision and acknowledgement of uncertainty, assessment of understanding and clarifying questions, decision-making, and decision maintenance, all while remaining sensitive to the emotional burden commensurate with these decisions. The “death or disability” paradigm represents a common challenge to informed consent in pediatric neurosurgery. Patient, family, and societal factors that inform surrogate decisions vary and sometimes conflict. Pediatric neurosurgeons must use a comprehensive approach to address the informational and relational needs of caregivers during the informed consent process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101030
JournalSeminars in pediatric neurology
StatePublished - Apr 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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