Ethical decision-making for extremely preterm deliveries: results of a qualitative survey among obstetricians and midwives

J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2004 Jun;15(6):394-9. doi: 10.1080/14767050410001725677.


Objective: To explore the practices, attitudes and feelings of obstetricians and midwives in cases of extreme prematurity.

Methods: A qualitative study was conducted as part of a European Concerted Action (EUROBS) in three tertiary-care maternity units, located in three cities in the northern, southern and central areas of France. Semi-structured interviews lasted an average of 60 min and were tape-recorded. They were independently analyzed by two different researchers using a content analysis. All full-time obstetricians and half of the full-time midwives were eligible for the study. Overall, 17 obstetricians and 30 midwives participated.

Results: Both obstetricians and midwives considered that decision-making in case of very preterm births raised ethical problems concerning the mother and the fetus. Despite some birth weight and gestational age criteria defined in advance, management around delivery appeared to be decided on a case-by-case basis. At birth, the neonatologists made the decisions. They were perceived as being more inclined than the obstetric team to initiate intensive care. If the child was born alive, intensive care was started, in the knowledge that it could be withdrawn later, if appropriate. Parents were sometimes involved in decision-making during pregnancy, in particular when there was no emergency situation. Compared with obstetricians, midwives tended to have a less favorable perception of the neonatologists' practices, and to report less parental involvement in decision-making.

Conclusions: Decisions about the obstetric management and resuscitation of extremely preterm infants are usually made on a case-by-case basis. Parents are sometimes involved in decision-making. Midwives express serious concerns about the current practices.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Decision Making*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Female
  • France
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Midwifery
  • Parents / psychology
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*