Newborns in crisis: An outline of neonatal ethical dilemmas in humanitarian medicine

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Newborn infants are among those most severely affected by humanitarian crises. Aid organisations increasingly recognise the necessity to provide for the medical needs of newborns, however, this may generate distinctive ethical questions for those providing humanitarian medical care. Medical ethical approaches to neonatal care familiar in other settings may not be appropriate given the diversity and volatility of humanitarian disasters, and the extreme resource limitations commonly faced by humanitarian aid missions. In this paper, we first systematically review existing guidelines relating to the treatment and resuscitation of newborns in humanitarian crises, finding little substantive ethical guidance for those providing humanitarian healthcare. We next draw on paradigm cases and published literature to identify and describe some of the major ethical questions common to these settings. We divide these questions into quality of life considerations, allocation of limited resources, and conflicting cultural norms and values. We finally suggest some preliminary recommendations to guide ethical decision-making around resuscitation of newborns and withdrawal of treatment in humanitarian settings.

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