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J Med Ethics 33:126-127 doi:10.1136/jme.2006.020107
  • Editorial

End of life decision-making in neonatal care

  1. Carolyn April,
  2. Michael Parker
  1. The Ethox Centre, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor M Parker
 The Ethox Centre, University of Oxford, Gibson Building/Block 21, Radcliffe Infirmary, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6HE, UK; michael.parker{at}ethox.ox.ac.uk
  • Received 5 December 2006
  • Accepted 5 December 2006
  • Revised 5 December 2006

Critical care of neonates

The recently published report of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Critical care decisions in fetal and neonatal medicine, is a valuable contribution to the discussion of decision making in the critical care of neonates. Drawing upon medical evidence, the working party highlights the many practical difficulties arising in neonatal care and by setting out clearly the nature of the ethical and other issues arising in this area of medicine, and their relationship with neonatal development, the resulting report has the potential to lead both to improved practice and to better informed communication between doctors and families when they face difficult decisions about how best to treat very premature babies. Based on medical evidence, the working party sets out guidelines on decision-making about the resuscitation of babies born before the gestational age of 25 weeks and 6 days, dividing this period into four chronological periods: before 21 weeks and 6 days when resuscitation should normally only take place within the context of a research project; between 22 weeks and 23 weeks when resuscitation should not normally be carried out unless the parents request it; at 23 or 24 weeks when parental views should take precedence; and, after 24 weeks when resuscitation should be the norm unless not in the child’s best interests.

There are several practical ethical difficulties with this aspect of the advice. To what extent, for example, does the paediatric assessment of the child, intended to play a role in decision-making about the appropriateness of resuscitation, itself depend on the initiation of resuscitation? To what extent is it reasonable and humane to expect parents to take full responsibility for making decisions about resuscitation between 23 and 24 weeks? On what grounds is it acceptable to attempt to resuscitate a baby <21 weeks and 6 …