Quality versus quantity: The complexities of quality of life determinations for neonatal nurses

Janet Green, Philip Darbyshire, Anne Adams, Debra Jackson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The ability to save the life of an extremely premature baby has increased substantially over the last decade. This survival, however, can be associated with unfavourable outcomes for both baby and family. Questions are now being asked about quality of life for survivors of extreme prematurity. Quality of life is rightly deemed to be an important consideration in high technology neonatal care; yet, it is notoriously difficult to determine or predict. How does one define and operationalise what is considered to be in the best interest of a surviving extremely premature baby, especially when the full extent of the outcomes might not be known for several years? Research question: The research investigates the caregiving dilemmas often faced by neonatal nurses when caring for extremely premature babies. This article explores the issues arising for neonatal nurses when they considered the philosophical and ethical questions about quality of life in babies ≤24 weeks gestation. Participants: Data were collected via a questionnaire to Australian neonatal nurses and semi-structured interviews with 24 neonatal nurses in New South Wales, Australia. Ethical considerations: Ethical processes and procedures have been adhered to by the researchers. Findings: A qualitative approach was used to analyse the data. The theme ‘difficult choices’ was generated which comprised three sub-themes: ‘damaged through survival’, ‘the importance of the brain’ and ‘families are important’. The results show that neonatal nurses believed that quality of life was an important consideration; yet they experienced significant inner conflict and uncertainty when asked to define or suggest specific elements of quality of life, or to suggest how it might be determined. It was even more difficult for the nurses to say when an extremely premature baby’s life possessed quality. Their previous clinical and personal experiences led the nurses to believe that the quality of the family’s life was important, and possibly more so than the quality of life of the surviving baby. This finding contrasts markedly with much of the existing literature in this field. Conclusion: Quality of life for extremely premature babies was an important consideration for neonatal nurses; however, they experienced difficulty deciding how to operationalise such considerations in their everyday clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)802-820
Number of pages19
JournalNursing Ethics
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


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