Ethical and legal acceptability of the use of neuromuscular blockers (NMBs) in connection with abstention decisions in Dutch NICUs: interviews with neonatologists

Journal of Medical Ethics 37 (1):29-33 (2011)
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Abstract

Background In the Netherlands, using drugs to deliberately end the life of a severely defective newborn baby who is in extreme suffering can be permissible under very precise circumstances. This does not mean that all Dutch neonatologists are willing to engage in such behaviour. This paper discusses the use of neuromuscular blockers (NMBs) in connection with abstention decisions in neonatology and the boundaries between ‘deliberate ending of life’ and other end-of-life decisions. These boundaries are of paramount importance because, of all end-of-life decisions, only ‘deliberate ending of life’ must be reported by the responsible doctor and exposes him to the risk of being prosecuted. Methods 14 Dutch neonatologists were presented with a hypothetical case of a severely asphyxiated baby who faces a long dying process after withdrawal of ‘medically futile’ (zinloos) life-sustaining ventilation. Doctors were asked whether it is acceptable to administer NMBs in this situation and whether such behaviour should be reported. Results and conclusions Doctors' responses were heterogeneous, showing that the acceptability of using NMBs in certain situations and the boundaries between end-of-life decisions are currently a subject of discussion among Dutch neonatologists. Many respondents reported feeling threatened by the potential involvement of the criminal law authorities in the system of control over ‘deliberate ending of life’

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