Infants’ Best Interests in End-of-life Care for Newborns
BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Pediatric bioethics presumes that decisions should be taken in the child’s best interest. If it’s ambiguous whether a decision is in the child's interest, we defer to parents. Should parents be permitted to consider their own interests in making decisions for their child? In the Netherlands, where neonatal euthanasia is legal, such questions sometimes arise in deciding whether to hasten the death of a critically ill, suffering child. We describe the recommendations of a national Dutch committee. Our objectives were to analyze the role of competing child and family interests and to provide guidance on end-of-life decisions for doctors caring for severely ill newborns.
METHODS: We undertook literature review, 7 consensus meetings in a multidisciplinary expert commission, and invited comments on draft report by specialists’ associations.
RESULTS: Initial treatment is mandatory for most ill newborns, to clarify the prognosis. Continuation of treatment is conditional on further diagnostic and prognostic data. Muscle relaxants can sometimes be continued after withdrawal of artificial respiration without aiming to shorten the child's life. When gasping causes suffering, or protracted dying is unbearable for the parents, muscle relaxants may be used to end a newborn's life. Whenever muscle relaxants are used, cases should be reported to the national review committee.
CONCLUSIONS: New national recommendations in the Netherlands for end-of-life decisions in newborns suggest that treatment should generally be seen as conditional. If treatment fails, it should be abandoned. In those cases, palliative care should be directed at both infant and parental suffering. Sometimes, this may permit interventions that hasten death.
- Accepted July 24, 2014.
- Copyright © 2014 by the American Academy of Pediatrics