Objective To investigate Belgian pediatric intensive care nurses’ involvement in and attitudes toward medical end-of-life decisions with a possible or certain life-shortening effect.
Methods Questionnaires were distributed to 141 nurses working in 5 of the 7 pediatric intensive care units in Belgium. Nurses were asked to recall the last child in their care whose treatment involved an end-of-life decision and to describe anonymously their involvement in the decision. Attitudes were ascertained by means of statements and a Likert scale.
Results Questionnaires were completed by 89 nurses (63%). During the preceding 2 years, 76 (85%) had cared for at least 1 child for whom a medical end-of-life decision had been made. Nurses were involved in initiating the decision in 17% of cases, participated in decision making in 50%, and played a role in carrying out the decision in 90%. Only 6% of nurses found it always ethically wrong to hasten the death of a child by administering lethal drugs; most nurses (78%) reported they were prepared to cooperate in administering life-ending drugs in some cases. Most (89%) favored adapting the law, making life termination of children legally possible in certain cases.
Conclusions Belgian pediatric intensive care nurses are often involved in carrying out medical end-of-life decisions, including administration of life-ending drugs, whereas their participation in decision making is more limited. Most think that the current euthanasia law should be extended to minors so that administering life-ending drugs would be possible for terminally ill children in specific circumstances.