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Doctors Speed Death of Ill Babies

This shocking headline originates from the April 8, 2005 United Press International, but seemed to be reported by Reuters news service and Medical News Today. The foundation of this headline can be a survey of doctors in Belgium recently published in the The Lancet medical journal, that indicated that when dealing with a critically ill baby, three out of four doctors polled could be ready to take action which they knew could cause the infant's death. The article goes further to disclose that some had already done so.

Professor Luc Deliens (Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium) and colleagues looked over the death certificates for all neonates and infants in the whole of Flanders (a province in Belgium) who died between August 1999 and July 2000. Researchers viewed 292 children which were born alive and died in Flanders inside the first year of life over the duration of the research. They identified 175 doctors who were responsible for these cases and sent them anonymous questionnaires. Of all which were sent the questionnaire, 121 of the 175 doctors involved completed the questions. The analysis revealed that in 143 cases, or 57 percent, an end-of-life decision have been taken. These decisions involved either withholding treatment, giving drugs to ease pain in doses that may shorten the life of the child or administering a lethal dose of a treatment.

Professor Deliens concluded: "We discovered that around three in four physicians that are confronted with critically ill neonates and infants are prepared to take part in certain types of life termination in these children. The primary reasons behind shortening of the neonate's life were the lack of real survival chances, and, if the baby survived, an expected inadequate quality of life." Professor Yvan Vandenplas, also of Vrije University Brussels commented by saying, "When there isn't any possibility of a positive outcome then many pediatricians take an end-of-life decision." Although in Belgium the use of lethal drugs in minors is illegal, the research says lethal doses or lethal drugs were administered in 17 cases representing about 9%. The study also indicated that 95 (or 79%) of the 121 doctors thought that their professional duty sometimes included preventing unnecessary suffering by hastening death and 69 (58%) of 120 doctors said they might support legalization of termination in some instances.

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