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End-of-life decision-making for newborns: a 12-year experience in Hong Kong

Journal title
Archives of disease in childhood. Fetal and neonatal edition
Publication year
Chan, L. C.; Cheung, H. M.; Poon, T. C.; Ma, T. P.; Lam, H. S.; Ng, P. C.

SETTING: Neonatal end-of-life decisions could be influenced by cultural and ethnic backgrounds. These practices have been well described in the West but have not been systematically studied in an Asian population. OBJECTIVES: To determine: (1) different modes of neonatal death and changes over the past 12 years and (2) factors influencing end-of-life decision-making in Hong Kong. DESIGN: A retrospective study was conducted to review all death cases from 2002 to 2013 in the busiest neonatal unit in Hong Kong. Modes of death, demographical data, diagnoses, counselling and circumstances around the time of death, were collected and compared between groups. RESULTS: Of the 166 deaths, 46% occurred despite active resuscitation (group 1); 35% resulted from treatment withdrawal (group 2) and 19% occurred from withholding treatment (group 3). A rising trend towards treatment withdrawal was observed, from 20% to 47% over the 12-year period. Similar number of parents chose extubation (n=44, 27%) compared with other modalities of treatment limitation (n=45, 27%). Significantly more parents chose to withdraw rather than to withhold treatment if clinical conditions were ‘stable’ (p=0.03), whereas more parents chose withholding therapy if treatment was considered futile (p=0.03). CONCLUSION: In Hong Kong, a larger proportion of neonatal deaths occurred despite active resuscitation compared with Western data. Treatment withdrawal is, however, becoming increasingly more common. Unlike Western practice, similar percentages of parents chose other modalities of treatment limitation compared with direct extubation. Cultural variance could be a reason for the different end-of-life practice adopted in Hong Kong.

Research abstracts