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Research ethics
The acceptability among French lay persons of ending the lives of damaged newborns


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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