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Intercontinental differences in end-of-life attitudes in the pediatric intensive care unit: results of a worldwide survey

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Devictor, D. J.; Tissieres, P.; Gillis, J.; Truog, R.

OBJECTIVE: To examine intercontinental differences in end-of-life practices in pediatric intensive care units. DESIGN: An international survey. The on-line questionnaire consisted of two case scenarios with five questions each. The scenarios described the management of children in pediatric intensive care units and the questions dealt with the decision-making process and the modalities of forgoing life support. SETTING: The participants at the 5th World Congress on Pediatric Critical Care Medicine organized by the World Federation of Pediatric Intensive and Critical Care Societies (June 2007, Geneva, Switzerland) were invited to participate. INTERVENTIONS: None. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Six hundred sixty seven complete questionnaires were received from 71 countries, which were grouped into six continents: Europe (52.7%), North America (17.9%) and South America (9.5%), Asia (7.6%), Australia (6%), and Middle East (4.3%). In both scenarios, physicians played the major role in decision making in all of the continents. However, parents from North America, Australia, the Middle East, and Asia seem to be more involved in the decision-making process, compared with those from Europe and South America. In cases of septic shock, caregivers from Europe and South America are more prone to forego life support despite parents’ wishes. In North America and Australia, parents’ presence during cardiopulmonary resuscitation is usually accepted (89.7% and 92.3%, respectively), whereas their presence is less accepted in Asia (54%) and Europe (54.8%), or much less accepted in South America (25.8%) and the Middle East (7.1%). In both scenarios, the option to withhold rather than withdraw life supports was more commonly chosen among all continents, except South America, where the withdrawal of life support was more often proposed (51.6% vs. 45.2%). CONCLUSIONS: This study confirms that important intercontinental differences exist toward end-of-life issues in pediatric intensive care. Although the legal and ethical situation is rapidly evolving, a certain degree of paternalism seems to persist among European and South-American caregivers. This study suggests that ethical principles depend on the cultural roots of countries or continents, emphasizing the need to foster dialogue on end-of-life issues around the world to learn from each other and improve end-of-life care in pediatric intensive care units.

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