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October 22, 1973

Ward 402

JAMA. 1973;226(4):473. doi:10.1001/jama.1973.03230040047032

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Mary, a pretty 11-year-old, is admitted to the pediatric ward of a university hospital. She has acute lymphocytic leukemia. Her father, a laboratory technician, wanted her just to die at home with something for the pain. Everyone in the hospital is doing research. Every patient is bled every day, almost ritualistically, it seems to provide specimens for the bustling laboratories. Question: What is the purpose of Mary's treatment? To induce a remission by whatever means or to keep the girl as comfortable as possible?

Dr. Glasser, a pediatrician, explores these questions, fully alert to their moral and dramatic possibilities. He examines the guises of expediency and the day-to-day conflict between scientism and resignation, with its shattering effect on patient, parent, and staff. He shows us the mystification and gradual alienation of parents who come to feel that they have surrendered their sick children to a strictly objective research program.