End-of-life decisions in neonates and infants: a nationwide mortality follow-back survey

Laure Dombrecht, Kim Beernaert, Kenneth Chambaere, Filip Cools, Linde Goossens, Gunnar Naulaers, Luc Cornette, Sabrina Laroche, Claire Theyskens, Christine Vandeputte, Hilde Van de Broek, Joachim Cohen, Luc Deliens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

OBJECTIVES: Neonatology has undergone important clinical and legal changes; however, the implications for end-of-life decision-making in seriously ill neonates to date are unknown. Our aim was to examine changes in prevalence and characteristics of end-of-life decisions (ELDs) in neonatology.

METHODS: We performed a nationwide mortality follow-back survey in August 1999 to July 2000 and September 2016 to December 2017 in Flanders, Belgium. Data were linked to information from death certificates. For each death under the age of 1, physicians were asked to complete an anonymous questionnaire about which ELDs were made preceding death.

RESULTS: The response rate was 87% in 1999-2000 (253/292) and 83% in 2016-2017 (229/276). The proportion of deaths of infants born before 26 weeks' gestation was increased (14% vs 34%, p=0.001). Prevalence of ELDs remained stable at 60%, with non-treatment decisions occurring in about 35% of all deaths. Use of medication with an explicit life-shortening intention was prevalent in 7%-10% of all deaths. In early neonatal death (<7 days old) medication with an explicit life-shortening intention decreased from 12% to 6%, in late neonatal death (7-27 days old), it increased from 0% to 26%, and in postneonatal death (>27 days old), it increased from 2% to 10%.

CONCLUSIONS: Over a timespan of 17 year, the prevalence of neonatal ELDs has remained stable. A substantial number of deaths was preceded by the intentionally hastening of death by administrating medication. While surveying solely the physician perspective in this paper, there is a need for an open multidisciplinary debate, including, for example, nursing staff and family members, based on clinical as well as ethical and jurisdictional reflections to discuss the need for international guidelines.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBMJ Supportive and Palliative Care
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2022. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ.

Keywords

  • end of life care
  • paediatrics

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