Objective: To determine the incidence of different modes of death in French paediatric intensive care units and to compare patients' characteristics, including a severity of illness score (Paediatric Risk of Mortality: PRISM score) and prior health status (Paediatric Overall Performance Category scale), according to the mode of death.
Design: A 4-month prospective cohort study.
Setting: Nine French multidisciplinary paediatric intensive care units.
Patients: All patients who died in PICUs, except premature babies.
Main results: Among 712 admissions, 13% patients died. Brain death was declared in 20%, failure of cardiopulmonary resuscitation occurred in 26%, do-not-resuscitate status was identified in 27%, and withdrawal of supportive therapy was noted in 27%. The PRISM score and the baseline Paediatric Overall Performance Category were not different between the four groups. Brain-dead patients were older than those in whom a do-not-resuscitate order and withdrawal of therapy were made (median age 81 vs 7 and 4 months).
Conclusions: Decisions to limit or to withdraw supportive care were made for a majority of patients dying in French paediatric intensive care units. Chronic health evaluation and severity of illness index are not sufficient to describe dead-patient populations.