End-of-life decision making in neonates and infants: Comparison of the Netherlands and Belgium (Flanders)
Aim: We compared the results of two recent studies on end-of-life decisions (ELDs) for neonates and infants in Belgium (Flanders) and the Netherlands. Methods: Questionnaires were sent to physicians who reported the death of a child under the age of 1 (Belgium: n = 292, response 87%; Netherlands: n = 249, response 84%). The questionnaires included structured questions about whether death had been preceded by ELDs, and about the decision-making process. Results: In both countries, in about 25% of all deaths a life-sustaining treatment was withheld, and in about 40% pain or other symptoms were alleviated taking into account that death might be hastened. In Belgium, a life-sustaining treatment was less often withdrawn than in the Netherlands (32% vs. 50%, respectively). Drugs were administered with the explicit intention of hastening death in similar percentages of all deaths (Belgium: 7%; Netherlands: 9%). Dutch physicians more often than Belgian physicians discussed ELDs with parents (96% vs. 81%, respectively), and with colleague physicians (94% vs. 80%, respectively). Conclusions: End-of-life decision making in severely ill neonates seems to be rather similar in Belgium and the Netherlands. Differences are that Dutch physicians more often withdraw life-sustaining treatment. Furthermore, parents and colleague physicians are more often involved in the decision making in the Netherlands.