Parental decision-making following a prenatal diagnosis that is lethal, life-limiting, or has long term implications for the future child and family: a meta-synthesis of qualitative literature

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
JournalBMC Medical Ethics
Issue number56
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2019
Information on the factors influencing parents’ decision-making process following a lethal, life-limiting or severely debilitating prenatal diagnosis remains deficient. A comprehensive systematic review and meta-synthesis was conducted to explore the influencing factors for parents considering termination or continuation of pregnancy following identification of lethal, life-limiting or severely debilitating fetal abnormalities.

Electronic searches of 13 databases were conducted. These searches were supplemented by hand-searching Google Scholar and bibliographies and citation tracing. Thomas and Harden’s (2008) thematic synthesis method was used to synthesise data from identified studies.

Twenty-four papers were identified and reviewed, but two papers were removed following quality assessment. Three main themes were identified through systematic synthesis. Theme 1, entitled ‘all life is precious’, described parents’ perception of the importance of the fetus’ life, a fatalistic view of their situation alongside moral implications as well as the implications decisions would have on their own life, in consideration of previous life experiences. Theme 2 (‘hope for a positive outcome’) contained two sub-themes which considered the parent’s own imagined future and the influence of other people’s experiences. Finally, Theme 3 (‘a life worth living’) presented three sub-themes which may influence their parental decision-making: These described parental consideration of the quality of life for their unborn child, the possibility of waiting to try for another pregnancy, and their own responsibilities and commitments.

The first review to fully explore parental decision-making process following lethal, life-limiting, or severely debilitating prenatal diagnosis provided novel findings and insight into which factors influenced parents’ decision-making process. This comprehensive and systematic review provides greater understanding of the factors influential on decision-making, such as hope, morality and potential implications on their own and other’s quality of life, will enable professionals to facilitate supported decision-making, including greater knowledge of the variables likely to influence parental choices.

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