Many congratulations to Dr Hannah Newton whose article “The Dying Child in 17th century England” has been published in the prestigious journal Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The emerging field of pediatric palliative care recommends that terminally ill children and their parents engage in compassionate and honest communication about the end of life. Extensive clinical experience and research attests that young patients often derive comfort from asking questions, sharing their hopes and fears, and receiving loving reassurance.Nevertheless, these conversations can be extremely challenging, both for parents and clinicians. Seeing how parents in the past approached this sensitive subject provides food for thought. The following discussions draw on my book, The Sick Child in Early Modern England,which is based on the analysis of hundreds of diaries, letters, and medical texts from c.1580 to 1720. At this time, almost a third of children died before the age of fifteen. Rather than shielding their offspring from these foreboding facts, parents encouraged their children to think about their own mortality, even before illness struck. The intention was make mortality familiar to the young, thereby taking the fear out of the unknown. It was part of the ‘preparation for death’, a religious process that was designed to help the individual to reach a state of peaceful acceptance, and even happiness, about dying. The article explores this preparation process.