Background: Neonatal deaths still represent the largest percentage of overall childhood mortality. Many deaths of neonates are preceded by end-of-life decisions; however, decision-making practices have been reported to vary widely from country to country. Objectives: To analyze principal causes and circumstances of all consecutive neonatal deaths at our institution over a 10-year period. Methods: All neonates who had died either in the delivery room (DR) or the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) between January 1, 1997 and December 31, 2006 were identified. Demographic information, principal causes and circumstances of death were abstracted from the individual medical records. Results: There were approximately 72,000 live births in the catchment area of our center with 15,150 deliveries occurring at the Women’s Hospital of Lucerne. Of the 108 deaths identified, 29 occurred in the DR (DR mortality rate 0.2%) and 79 in the NICU (NICU mortality rate 2.3%). The majority of DR deaths occurred in the setting of primary nonintervention and were related to extreme prematurity (n = 20), lethal congenital malformations (n = 6) and trisomy 13 (n = 2). One patient with severe perinatal asphyxia died despite full resuscitative efforts. In the NICU, overall mortality rate was inversely related to gestational age (GA). Cardiovascular and respiratory system failures were the predominant causes of death in premature infants with a GA <32 weeks, whereas CNS catastrophes accounted for the majority of deaths in the more mature NICU population. End-of-life decisions were common with less than 10% of deaths occurring despite maximal intensive care. Conclusions: In our perinatal center, primary nonintervention and redirection of care are the most common circumstances of death in neonates. This reflects our belief that, apart from futility, quality-of-life considerations are an important part of decision making in neonatology.
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