Whom are we seeking to protect? Extremely preterm babies and moral distress


Whom are we seeking to protect? Extremely preterm babies and moral distress


Prentice TM; Gillam L; Davis PG; Janvier A


Seminars in Perinatology




End-of-life care; Decision-making; Neonatal intensive care; Moral distress; Ethical confrontation; Prematurity


Advances in perinatal care bring with them ethical challenges and difficult questions. When should we provide life-sustaining interventions, and who should decide? Particularly at the edges of viability, some clinicians may feel required to provide a level of care that they believe is not in the patient's interests, resulting in moral distress. This article will discuss the complex nature of moral distress arising during the care of extremely preterm babies. It will describe the challenges and cognitive biases present when contemplating potential harms to the baby and recognize the possible costs to both healthcare provider and baby when moral distress arises. Both clinicians caring for extremely preterm babies and the families themselves can experience moral distress. This article argues that for clinicians, recognizing the range of possible sources of moral distress is vital in order to appropriately address moral distress. Moral distress may arise from a desire to protect the baby, but also from an impulse to protect oneself from the emotional burdens of care. Addressing moral distress requires reflection on the factual beliefs, experiences and personal values which lie behind the distress, both within one self in and in discussion with colleagues. Moral distress indicates that a situation is ethically challenging, but it does not necessarily mean that a wrong decision has been made.


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Citation List Month

February 2022 List



Prentice TM; Gillam L; Davis PG; Janvier A, “Whom are we seeking to protect? Extremely preterm babies and moral distress,” Pediatric Palliative Care Library, accessed October 4, 2023, https://pedpalascnetlibrary.omeka.net/items/show/17805.