Objectives: To explore how fear of litigation influences neonatal treatment decisions.
Study design: In a mailed survey, we presented a hypothetical vignette of a premature infant to 1000 neonatologists. We asked them to estimate prognosis, indicate appropriate intervention, and respond to parental treatment requests. Subjects were randomly assigned to receive one of two questionnaires, "litigious" or "nonlitigious," which differed only in the description of the infant's parents.
Results: The response rate was 63.0%. The vast majority of respondents deferred to parental requests rather than adhering to their best judgment. They deferred whether or not parents requested treatment and whether or not parents were described as litigious (P <.0001). Among those respondents who shifted their resuscitation opinion after parental introduction, respondents to the nonlitigious version were more likely to shift their opinion from "treat" to "do not treat" after parental requests to "use your best judgment" (P <.042). The influence of parental litigiousness was primarily seen among neonatologists who thought that the infant's prognosis was dismal (P <.044).
Conclusions: There is a strong disposition among neonatologists toward respecting parental wishes. This disposition is stronger when neonatologists are given additional reason to be concerned about litigation.