Ethical issues in neonatal intensive care and physicians' practices: A European perspective

Marina Cuttini, Veronica Casotto, Marcello Orzalesi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An international project (EURONIC) was carried out to explore the end-of-life decision-making process in a large, representative sample of neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) in eight western European countries: France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. Structured questionnaires were used to record data on NICU organization and policies, and to survey staff views and practices regarding ethical decision-making. One hundred and twenty-two NICUs were recruited by census or random sampling (response rate 86%); 1235 physicians and 3115 nurses completed the staff questionnaire (response rates 89 and 85%, respectively). This paper focuses on the physicians' answers. In all countries but Italy, most physicians reported having been involved at least once in setting limits to intensive care because of a baby's incurable condition and/or poor neurological prognosis. Adopted strategies varied between countries. Practices such as the continuation of current treatment without intensifying it and the withholding of emergency manoeuvres appeared widespread. In contrast, the frequency of doctors reporting withdrawal of mechanical ventilation was highest in the Netherlands (93%), Sweden (91%) and the Great Britain (88%), intermediate in France and Germany, and lowest in Spain and Italy (34 and 21%, respectively). Conclusion: Ethically problematic clinical cases are approached differently in the various countries. The findings of this study may provide an opportunity for physicians to review their practices critically, in light of how other colleagues proceed, and foster an open discussion about these difficult issues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-46
Number of pages5
JournalActa Paediatrica, International Journal of Paediatrics
Issue numberSUPPL. 452
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1 2006


  • Ethical dilemmas
  • Neonatal intensive care
  • Non-treatment decisions
  • Parental involvement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health

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