Extremely premature birth and the choice of neonatal intensive care versus palliative comfort care: an 18-year single-center experience.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Journal of perinatology : official journal of the California Perinatal Association


Adult; Counseling; Decision Making; Female; Gestational Age; Humans; Infant, Extremely Premature; Infant, Newborn; Intensive Care Units, Neonatal; Oregon; Palliative Care; Perinatal Care; Pregnancy; Premature Birth; Resuscitation; Retrospective Studies; Young Adult


OBJECTIVE: Review all live births 22 0/7 through 26 6/7 weeks gestation born 1996 through 2013 at our institution to describe the decision process and immediate outcomes of palliative comfort care (PCC) versus neonatal intensive care (NICU) and whether any significant family complaints or quality assurance concerns arose.

STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective chart review, physician and ethicist interview process and database review focused upon our established periviability counseling guidelines that are directive of PCC at 22 weeks gestation and NICU at 26 weeks but supportive of informed family choice of either option at 23, 24 and 25 weeks.

RESULT: At 22 weeks--all 54 infants had PCC; at 23 weeks--29/78 (37%) chose NICU care, 6/29 (21%) infants survived; at 24 weeks--79/108 (73%) chose NICU care, 47/79 (59%) survived; at 25 weeks--147/153 (96%) chose NICU care, 115/147 (78%) survived; and at 26 weeks--all infants had NICU care, 176/203 (87%) survived. Over 18 years and 606 births, we identified only three significant concerns from families and/or physicians that required formal review.

CONCLUSION: Most pregnant women and families choose NICU care for their extremely premature infant, but if given the option via shared decision making, a significant proportion will choose PCC at gestational ages that some NICUs mandate resuscitation. We support a reasoned dialogue and bioethical framework that recognizes human values to be irreducibly diverse, sometimes conflicting, and ultimately incommensurable--value pluralism. Respectful shared decision making requires thoughtful and compassionate flexibility, nuanced and individualized suggestions for PCC or NICU and the reduction of hierarchical directives from physicians to families. We continue to advocate and rely upon informed family preference between 23 and 25 weeks gestation in our updated 2015 periviability guidelines.

Clinical Institute

Women & Children




Biomedical Ethics


Palliative Care