OBJECTIVES: To describe the frequency of postnatal discussions about withdrawal or withholding of life-sustaining therapy (WWLST), ensuing WWLST, and outcomes of infants surviving such discussions. We hypothesized that such survivors have poor outcomes.
STUDY DESIGN: This retrospective review included registry data from 18 centers of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Neonatal Research Network. Infants born at 22-28 weeks of gestation who survived >12 hours during 2011-2013 were included. Regression analysis identified maternal and infant factors associated with WWLST discussions and factors predicting ensuing WWLST. In-hospital and 18- to 26-month outcomes were evaluated.
RESULTS: WWLST discussions occurred in 529 (15.4%) of 3434 infants. These were more frequent at 22-24 weeks (27.0%) compared with 27-28 weeks of gestation (5.6%). Factors associated with WWLST discussion were male sex, gestational age (GA) of ≤24 weeks, birth weight small for GA, congenital malformations or syndromes, early onset sepsis, severe brain injury, and necrotizing enterocolitis. Rates of WWLST discussion varied by center (6.4%-29.9%) as did WWLST (5.2%-20.7%). Ensuing WWLST occurred in 406 patients; of these, 5 survived to discharge. Of the 123 infants for whom intensive care was continued, 58 (47%) survived to discharge. Survival after WWLST discussion was associated with higher rates of neonatal morbidities and neurodevelopmental impairment compared with babies for whom WWLST discussions did not occur. Significant predictors of ensuing WWLST were maternal age >25 years, necrotizing enterocolitis, and days on a ventilator.
CONCLUSIONS: Wide center variations in WWLST discussions occur, especially at ≤24 weeks GA. Outcomes of infants surviving after WWLST discussions are poor.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT00063063.