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Formal procedure to facilitate the decision to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining interventions in a neonatal intensive care unit: a seven-year retrospective study

Journal title
BMC palliative care
Publication year
Sorin, G.; Vialet, R.; Tosello, B.

BACKGROUND: Neonatal deaths are often associated with the complex decision to limit or withdraw life-sustaining interventions (LSIs) rather than therapeutic impasses. Despite the existence of a law, significant disparities in clinical procedures remain. This study aimed to assess deaths occurring in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and measure the impact of a traceable Limitation or Withdrawal of Active Treatment (LWAT) file on the treatment of these newborns. METHODS: In this monocentric retrospective study, we reviewed all consecutive neonatal deaths occurring during two three-year periods among patients in the NICU at the North Hospital of Marseille: cohort 1 (from 2009 to 2011 without the LWAT file) and cohort 2 (from 2013 to 2015 after introduction of the LWAT file). Newborns included were: gestational age over 22 weeks, birth weight over 500 g, and admission and death in the same NICU. Deaths were categorized according to the classification described by Verhagen et al.: 1) children who died despite cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) (no withholding nor withdrawing of LSIs), (2) children who died while the ventilator, without CPR (no withdrawing of LSIs, but CPR withheld), (3) children who died after LSIs were withdrawn, or (4) LSIs were withheld. RESULTS: 193 deaths were analyzed: 77 in cohort 1 and 116 in cohort 2. 50% of deaths followed the decision to limit or stop life-sustaining interventions. The mean age at death did not differ between the two cohorts (p = 0.525). An increase in the mortality rate after life-sustaining interventions were withdrawn was observed. The number of multidisciplinary decision meetings was statistically higher in cohort 2 (32.5% versus 55.2% p = 0.002), which were most often prompted due to neurological pathologies, with an increase in parental advice concerning the management of their child (p = 0.026). Even if the introduction of this file did not have an effect on patient age at death, it was significantly associated with a better understanding of end-of-life conditions (p = 0.019), including medication used to sedate and comfort the patient. CONCLUSIONS: Introduction of the LWAT file seems imperative to develop a personalized healthcare strategy for each child and situation.

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