Background: A substantial proportion of the decisions to withhold or withdraw life-prolonging treatment are based on the newborn's predicted poor quality of life. All previous studies on end-of-life decisions were done in countries with adequate support for disabled neonatal intensive care units (NICU) survivors. Data on quality-of-life considerations in countries with developing health care are not available yet.
Aim: The aim of the study was to examine the considerations of physicians taking end-of-life decisions in sick newborns and how those decisions are carried out in practice in a less developed health care setting.
Method: Thirty-two deaths over 18 months in a neonatal unit were retrospectively analyzed.
Results: Twenty-four deaths (75%) were attributable to withholding or withdrawing of treatment. In 7 of these cases (29%), the decisions were based on quality-of-life considerations, mostly predicted suffering and expected hospital dependency. For the majority of paediatricians, end-of-life decision making was not influenced by legal or economic considerations or by considerations regarding availability of supportive care after discharge.
Conclusion: Our study suggests that physician end-of-life decision making in this unit in a less developed health care setting is found to be similar to that in developed health care settings and is independent of availability of supportive care after discharge for infants with disabilities.