In an article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics they warned that families with deeply held hopes for a “miraculous” recovery were increasingly being allowed to “stonewall” medical opinion.
The doctors, from Great Ormond Street Hospital, called for an overhaul of the legal system to reduce the weight given to parents’ religious beliefs in such cases.
Critics have accused the authors of attempting to “impose” secular values on society, irrespective of religious affiliations.
Unusually, the warning is contained in an article jointly written by specialist doctors from the neonatal intensive care unit at Great Ormond Street in London — Dr Joe Brierley and Dr Andy Petros — and the hospital’s main chaplain, the Rev Jim Linthicum.
Their article follows a review of 203 cases at the unit in which parents were advised that life support systems should be switched off.
The authors disclosed that 70 per cent of deaths at the unit followed the withdrawal of medical care.
In 186 of the 203 cases, parents and doctors agreed to stop aggressive but ultimately unsuccessful treatment.
In 17 cases, the parents insisted on continuing treatment even after lengthy discussions about the probability that it would be unsuccessful. In 11 of these, religion was the main factor influencing their decision. Some of the cases were eventually resolved after religious leaders persuaded the parents to allow the child to die, and one case went to the High Court.
In the remaining cases, no agreement could be reached because the parents were awaiting a “miracle”, the authors said.