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Neonatal euthanasia: moral considerations and criminal liability


Despite tremendous advances in medical care for critically ill newborn infants, caregivers in neonatal intensive care units still struggle with how to approach those patients whose prognoses appear to be the most grim, and whose treatments appear to be the most futile. Although the practice of passive neonatal euthanasia, from a moral perspective, has been widely (albeit quietly) condoned, those clinicians and families involved in such cases may still be found legally guilty of child abuse or even manslaughter. Passive neonatal euthanasia remains both a moral dilemma and a legal ambiguity. Even the definition of passive euthanasia remains unclear. This manuscript reviews the basic moral and legal considerations raised by the current practice of neonatal euthanasia, and examines the formal position statements of the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The paper concludes by emphasising the need, at least in the United States, to clarify the legal status of this relatively common medical practice.

  • Euthanasia
  • neonatal intensive care
  • defective newborns

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