A hospital affiliated with the Kinki University School of Medicine discontinued care for six severely ill newborn babies in 1996 and 1997 after they were judged to be incurable, a doctor who used to work at the university said Sunday.
Oji Noma, who currently runs a clinic in Hyogo Prefecture, said in a publication in 1999 that they included an infant who was determined to be facing imminent death from a slowing heartbeat and another who was in a prolonged coma.
The six cases, reported in a journal of the Japan Society for Premature and Newborn Medicine, were among nine babies who died during that period in the newborn intensive care unit at the Kinki University School of Medicine hospital in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture.
The report gave detailed accounts of three of the six cases, where respirators were eventually removed.
The report says removing a respirator “is ethically permissible” when the doctor in charge determines that the infant would not recover enough to be self-reliant in the future and when the family wishes to care for the infant in its last moments.
Noma wrote in the report that guidelines were prepared for suspension or termination of care. Based on opinions by more than one doctor or nurse, the parents took care of the infants in their last moments through such means as holding them in their arms.
He said Sunday that in the case of an infant who was suffering from cerebral ischemic syndrome and was in a coma, “Terminating care is not good if there is even a little reaction that may suggest a glimmer of life, but in this case, brain contraction has progressed and it is not writing off a life.
“Rather than putting off the arrival of death, I believe we have provided humane medical care.”
Norihisa Wada, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the university hospital, said, “I am aware of a paper that revealed termination of care to prolong lives of infants, but there have been no cases where care, including the use of artificial respirators, was discontinued after 2000 when I came to be in charge of the newborn intensive care unit.”
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