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Relationship of neonatologists’ end-of-life decisions to their personal fear of death
  1. Peter Barr
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr P Barr
    Department of Neonatology, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Locked Bag 4001, Westmead, NSW 2145, Australia; peter{at}chw.edu.au

Abstract

Objective: To study the relationship of Australian and New Zealand (ANZ) neonatologists’ personal fear of death to their forgoing life-sustaining treatment and hastening death in newborns destined for severe disability and newborns for whom further treatment is considered non-beneficial or overly burdensome.

Design: A self-report questionnaire survey of ANZ neonatologists.

Setting: Neonatologists registered in the 2004 ANZ Directory of Neonatal Intensive Care Units.

Participants: 78 of 138 (56%) neonatologists who responded to the study questionnaire.

Main outcome measures: Between-group differences in the Multidimensional Fear of Death Scale.

Results: In newborns for whom further treatment was deemed futile, 73 neonatologists reported their attitude to hastening death as follows: 23 preferred to hasten death by withdrawing minimal treatment, 35 preferred to hasten death with analgesia-sedation, and 15 reported that hastening death was unacceptable. Analysis of variance showed a statistically significant difference between the three groups regarding fear of the dying process (F = 3.78, p = 0.028), fear of premature death (F = 3.28, p = 0.044) and fear of being destroyed (F = 3.20, p = 0.047). Post hoc comparisons showed that neonatologists who reported that hastening death was unacceptable compared with neonatologists who preferred to hasten death with analgesia-sedation had significantly less fear of the dying process and fear of premature death, and significantly more fear of being destroyed.

Conclusions: ANZ neonatologists’ personal fear of death and their attitude to hastening death when further treatment is considered futile are significantly related. Neonatologists’ fear of death may influence their end-of-life decisions.

  • ANZ, Australian and New Zealand
  • MFODS, Multidimensional Fear of Death Scale

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Footnotes

  • Competing interests: None.

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