The use of drugs with a life-shortening effect in end-of-life care in neonates and infants
Provoost, Veerle Cools, Filip Bilsen, Johan Ramet, José Deconinck, Peter Vander Stichele, Robert Vande Velde, Anne Van Herreweghe, Inge Mortier, Freddy Vandenplas, Yvan Deliens, Luc #
Intensive care medicine vol:32 issue:1 pages:133-9
OBJECTIVE: The purpose was to describe the use of drugs with a possible or certain life-shortening effect in end-of-life care in infants and to evaluate the possibly lethal effect. DESIGN: For 292/298 deaths of live born infants (<1 year), in a 1-year period (between 1 August 1999 and 31 July 2000) in Flanders, Belgium, the attending physician could be identified and was sent an anonymous questionnaire. The questionnaires relating to deaths directly preceded by the administration of drugs were reviewed by a multi-disciplinary panel. RESULTS: The response rate was 86.6% (253/292). In 57 cases (22.5%), drugs were administered directly before death. In 17/57 cases, the physician explicitly intended to hasten death. In 16/17 cases information about the drug(s) was available: opioids were administered in 14, a muscle relaxant in 5 and potassium chloride in 3 cases. In 13 cases where the lethal effect could be evaluated, the panel judged that the drugs were effective in hastening death in 10 cases. In most cases the estimated life-shortening was <24 h. In 40/57 cases the physician administered drugs to alleviate pain and/or symptoms, taking into account a possible life-shortening effect without explicitly intending it. Opioids were administered in all 30 cases where information about the drug(s) was supplied. In 13 cases the lethal effect could be evaluated, and in 6 cases the panel judged that the drugs had hastened death. CONCLUSIONS: When life-shortening was explicitly intended, (dosages of) drugs were likely to be lethal. Drugs administered also clearly hastened death in some cases where life-shortening was not explicitly intended.