BACKGROUND: Without ventilatory support, premature death from respiratory insufficiency is virtually universal in infants with spinal muscular atrophy type 1 (SMA1). With mechanical ventilation, however, long-term survival has been reported from numerous international centres. We aimed to characterize physician attitudes to the various forms of ventilatory support for children with SMA1. METHODS: We surveyed neurologists, respiratory physicians, clinical geneticists and intensivists from all major paediatric hospitals in Australia and New Zealand regarding their views on ventilatory management of SMA1. RESULTS: Ninety-two of the 157 (59%) physicians surveyed replied. Respondents included 16 clinical geneticists, 19 intensive care physicians, 28 neurologists and 29 respiratory physicians. Almost half (47%) opposed invasive ventilation of children with SMA1 and respiratory failure precipitated by intercurrent illness. The majority (76%) opposed invasive ventilatory support for chronic respiratory failure in SMA1. In contrast, non-invasive ventilation was felt by 85% to be appropriate for acute respiratory deteriorations, with 49% supporting long-term non-invasive ventilatory support. Most physicians felt that decisions regarding ventilation should be made jointly by parents and doctors, and that hospital Clinical Ethics Committees should be involved in the event of discordant opinion regarding further management. A majority felt that a defined hospital policy would be valuable in guiding management of SMA1. CONCLUSIONS: Respiratory support in SMA1 is an important issue with significant ethical, financial and resource management implications. Most physicians in Australian and New Zealand oppose invasive ventilatory support for chronic respiratory failure in SMA1. Non-invasive ventilation is an accepted intervention for acute respiratory decompensation and may have a role in the long-term management of SMA1. Clinical Ethics Committees and institutional policies have a place in guiding physicians and parents in the management of children with SMA1.
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