Aims: To define the characteristics of patients dying in a pediatric hospital, including causes and modes of death.
Patients and methods: This retrospective, descriptive, epidemiologic study was performed between 1 January 1990 and 31 December 1995. All patients who died in the hospital between these dates were included. Patients already dead on arrival (sudden infant death syndrome, children deceased during their transport), and those whose hospital records could not be found, were excluded.
Results: A total of 375 children were studied, including 195 neonates. The sex ratio was 1.3. Ninety-one percent of deaths took place in three departments: intensive care, neurosurgery-neurology and oncology. Median duration of hospitalization was three days. The most common causes of deaths were accidents, neurologic diseases (particularly among neonates) and tumours. Analysis of modes of death revealed that 41.1% occurred following unsuccessful resuscitation, 38.8% were the result of withdrawal of life-support or a 'do not resuscitate' order and 21.6% resulted from brain death. Evolution of modes of death over the six years showed a reduction of cases with unsuccessful resuscitation, an increase in decisions of 'do not resuscitate' orders and withdrawal of life-support and no change in rates of brain death. Organs were made available for transplantation from 12 of the 81 children with brain death (14.8%).
Conclusion: Accidents were the most common cause of death. The distribution of deaths showed a clear increase in withdrawal or withholding of life-support care, relying on ethical decisions, which are more frequent than some years ago.