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Research ethics
The acceptability among French lay persons of ending the lives of damaged newborns
  1. N Teisseyre1,
  2. I Duarte dos Reis1,
  3. P C Sorum2,
  4. E Mullet3
  1. 1
    Department of Psychology, Université du Mirail, Toulouse, France
  2. 2
    Departments of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, Albany Medical College, Latham, New York, USA
  3. 3
    Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Toulouse, France
  1. Correspondence to Dr P C Sorum, Albany Medical Center Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, 724 Watervliet-Shaker Road, Latham, NY 12110,USA; sorump{at}mail.amc.edu

Abstract

Background: Lay persons’ judgements of the acceptability of the not uncommon practice of ending the life of a damaged neonate have not been studied.

Methods: A convenience sample of 1635 lay people in France rated how acceptable it would be for a physician to end a neonate’s life—by withholding care, withdrawing care, or active euthanasia—in 54 scenarios in which the neonate was diagnosed either with perinatal asphyxia or a genetic abnormality. The scenarios were all combinations of four factors: three levels of maturity or immaturity, three levels of severity of the health problem, three levels of parents’ preference concerning prolonging care and two levels of decision-making (with or without consulting the other caregivers).

Analyses: Analyses of variance of the participants’ responses were performed to determine the importance of each factor; the interactions among factors, with methods of ending life and with other patient characteristics; and the differences between asphyxia and genetic abnormality. A cluster analysis was performed to look for groups with different patterns of responses.

Results: Lay people assigned most importance to the parents’ request and to the severity of the problem. Except for a small group (12%) always opposed to ending life, they used a simple additive-type rule in integrating the information.

Implications: Most of this sample of French lay people are not categorically for or against ending the life of a damaged neonate, but judge its degree of acceptability by adding up those factors that seem most salient to them.

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Footnotes

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval The protocol was approved, as part of a larger study including neonatal nurses and physicians, by the Committee on Ethics of the Hospital of Beziers, France.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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