The management of children with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 1 in Australia

16 May 2016

Aims: To (1) estimate the prevalence of Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 1 (SMA 1); (2) describe what practices characterise end-of-life care of patients with SMA 1; (3) ascertain whether a consistent approach to the management of these patients exists in Australia. Methods: An audit of the Australasian pathology laboratories offering the diagnostic SMN1 deletion test was conducted for patients diagnosed with SMA in Australia for 2010 and 2011. In addition, a retrospective clinical audit was conducted in eight major Australian paediatric hospitals of the end-of-life care provided to children with confirmed SMA 1 from 2005 to 2010. Results: 35 children were included in the clinical audit, accounting for an estimated 61% of children diagnosed with SMA 1 from 2005-2010. 26% were ventilated invasively, only two of whom were intubated after the diagnosis was confirmed. No children were ventilated long-term (>90 days) or had a tracheostomy performed. Nasogastric tube feeding was a common measure to support adequate nutritional intake. Total parenteral nutrition, gastrostomy and fundoplication were not provided for any children. Conflict over end-of-life care decisions was documented in one instance, without the involvement of a guardianship tribunal. Conclusion: There appears to be a consistent approach in the management of children with SMA 1 in Australia, which can be characterised as ‘actively managed dying.’ This study could contribute to the development of Australian consensus guidelines for the management of these children. These results also highlight a number of ethical issues related to the management of children with SMA 1.