Barriers to and facilitators of end-of-life decision-making by neonatologists and neonatal nurses in neonates: a qualitative study

NICU consortium, Laure Dombrecht, Veerle Piette, Luc Deliens, Filip Cools, Kenneth Chambaere, Linde Goossens, Gunnar Naulaers, Luc Cornette, Kim Beernaert, Joachim Cohen

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CONTEXT: Making end-of-life decisions in neonates involves ethically difficult and distressing dilemmas for healthcare providers. Insight into which factors complicate or facilitate this decision-making process could be a necessary first step in formulating recommendations to aid future practice.

OBJECTIVES: This study aimed to identify barriers to and facilitators of the end-of-life decision-making process as perceived by neonatologists and nurses.

METHODS: We conducted semi-structured face-to-face interviews with 15 neonatologists and 15 neonatal nurses, recruited through four neonatal intensive care units in Flanders, Belgium. They were asked what factors had facilitated and complicated previous end-of-life decision-making processes. Two researchers independently analysed the data, using thematic content analysis to extract and summarize barriers and facilitators.

RESULTS: Barriers and facilitators were found at three distinct levels: the case-specific context (e.g. uncertainty of the diagnosis and specific characteristics of the child, the parents and the healthcare providers which make decision-making more difficult), the decision-making process (e.g. multidisciplinary consultations and advance care planning (ACP) which make decision-making easier), and the overarching structure (e.g. lack of privacy and complex legislation making decision-making more challenging).

CONCLUSIONS: Barriers and facilitators found in this study can lead to recommendations, some simpler to implement than others, to aid the complex end-of-life decision making process. Recommendations include establishing regular multidisciplinary meetings to include all healthcare providers and reduce unnecessary uncertainty, routinely implementing ACP in severely ill neonates to make important decisions beforehand, creating privacy for bad-news conversations with parents and reviewing the complex legal framework of perinatal end-of-life decision-making.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)599-608.e2
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number3
Early online date2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2019. Published by Elsevier Inc.


  • Perinatal death
  • barriers and facilitators
  • decision making
  • end-of-life care
  • intensive care units
  • neonatal
  • qualitative research


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