Foregoing intensive care treatment in newborn infants with extremely poor prognoses. A study in four neonatal intensive care units in The Netherlands

J Pediatr. 1996 Nov;129(5):661-6. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3476(96)70146-4.


Within the framework of the broader ethical discussion on end-of-life decision making in neonatology and the need to obtain more quantifiable data, we performed a multicenter study in four Dutch neonatal intensive care units. All infants who died in these units in 1993 were included in the study. Aside from cases in which foregoing treatment was not under discussion, cases in which death appeared inevitable (A cases) and cases in which foregoing treatment because of extremely poor prognosis was the decisive factor (B cases) were distinguished. A total of 181 neonatal deaths occurred. Thirty-five infants died even after full continuation of treatment. In 98 A cases and 48 B cases, which together represented 81% of all deaths, treatment was foregone either because the infants had no chance to survive or because of extremely poor prognoses. In these cases, the medical team ultimately achieved consensus of opinion, although in some instances several sessions were required. In three cases, the parents did not agree with the team advice. In one A case death appeared inevitable. In two B cases, the parents' wish to continue treatment was followed. In a large majority of B cases, the decisions to forego treatment were based on the presence of severe cerebral damage. In A cases there was no real choice because death appeared inevitable. However, in B cases neonatologists were obliged to determine whether continuation of treatment was justifiable or if withdrawal of treatment in view of extremely poor prognoses was preferred.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Intensive Care, Neonatal*
  • Male
  • Netherlands
  • Prognosis
  • Severity of Illness Index