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The parents' ability to take care of their baby as a factor in decisions to withhold or withdraw life-prolonging treatment in two Dutch NICUs
  1. Sofia Moratti
  1. Correspondence to Dr Sofia Moratti, Research Group ‘Regulation of Socially Problematic Medical Behavior’, Department of Legal Theory, Faculty of Law, Oude Kijk in ‘t Jatstraat 5, Mailbox 716, 9700 AS Groningen, The Netherlands; s.moratti{at}


In The Netherlands, it is openly acknowledged that the parents' ability to take care of their child plays a role in the decision-making process over administration of life-prolonging treatment to severely defective newborn babies. Unlike other aspects of such decision-making process up until the present time, the ‘ability to take care’ has not received specific attention in regulation or in empirical research. The present study is based on interviews with neonatologists in two Dutch NICUs concerning their definition of the ability to take care and its relevance in non-treatment decisions. All of the respondents think that the ability to take care consists of more than one factor. Most doctors mention the parents' emotional state, social network and cognitive abilities. Some doctors mention the presence of psychological conditions in the parents, their financial situation and physical condition. A few refer to the parents' experience and age, their chances to have another baby and their cultural background. Most doctors think the ability to take care has a secondary relevance in the decision-making process, while the primary concern is assessing the condition of the child. A substantial minority thinks the ability to take care does not play any role, while one doctor thinks it is a factor of primary importance. The study constitutes an important stepping-stone for future research in The Netherlands and elsewhere.

  • Medical futility
  • decision-making
  • ethics
  • NICU
  • end-of-life
  • applied and professional ethics
  • quality/value of life/personhood
  • newborns and minors
  • prolongation of life and euthanasia
  • allowing minors to die

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  • Funding Faculty of Law, University of Groningen, The Netherlands.

  • Competing interests None.

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

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