Withholding/withdrawing treatment from neonates: Legislation and official guidelines across Europe

Hazel E. McHaffie, Marina Cuttini, Gabriele Brölz-Voit, Liesbeth Randag, Raymond Mousty, Anne Marie Duguet, Bertil Wennergren, Paolo Benciolini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Representatives from eight European countries compared the legal, ethical and professional settings within which decision making for neonates takes place. When it comes to limiting treatment there is general agreement across all countries that overly aggressive treatment is to be discouraged. Nevertheless, strong emphasis has been placed on the need for compassionate care even where cure is not possible. Where a child will die irrespective of medical intervention, there is widespread acceptance of the practice of limiting aggressive treatment or alleviating suffering even if death may be hastened as a result. Where the infant could be saved but the future outlook is bleak there is more debate, but only two countries have tested the courts with such cases. When it comes to the active intentional ending of life, the legal position is standard across Europe; it is prohibited. However, recognising those intractable situations where death may be lingering and unpleasant, Dutch paediatricians have reported that they do sometimes assist babies to die with parental consent. Two cases have been tried through the courts and recent official recommendations have set out standards by which such actions may be assessed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)440-446
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Medical Ethics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1999


  • Comparisons
  • Europe
  • Neonates
  • Withdrawing treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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