Should Very Premature Babies Be Left To Die?


premature babyWhen my son was born prematurely at 27 weeks, no one asked me if I wanted them to try to keep him alive. His tiny body, weighing less than 2 pounds, couldn't have survived without medical intervention, but he received it without question and he thrived and grew into the amazing, perfectly healthy 7-year-old boy he is today.

But babies born just a few weeks sooner than he was would get no medical intervention and would be left to die if a top doctor in the UK has her way. Dr. Daphne Austin, who heads up the NHS, says very premature babies -- those born before 24 weeks -- are too expensive to save. In a recent documentary she said keeping them alive is "prolonging their agony," and that the money used to treat them could be better spent treating things like cancer. She also said doctors are  "doing more harm than good by resuscitating 23-weekers." 

As harsh as it sounds, I've got to say I agree with her in some ways.

With my son we were lucky, blessed, under a lucky star, or whatever you want to believe -- but  he is the exception for babies born so small. Many at his gestation have long-term disabilities and challenges that they and their families must deal with for life. And he was born a full four weeks after the limit this doctor is talking about. Four weeks is a long time, a lifetime really for these babies.

According to an article in the Daily Mail, of the babies born before 24 weeks gestation, only 9 percent ever leave the hospital. The rest die. Of those who survive, only 1 in 100 escapes without a disability like blindness or cerebral palsy. There are discrepancies in the exact statistics depending on who you ask, but the bottom line is that the odds are very much against these babies.

Everyone loves a great preemie miracle story, and they're beautiful, truly they are. But there are many more families who lose their children after extreme measures are taken or who live  painful lives trying to help children with extreme medical needs.

Also, while you never want to put a price on a life, the fact is that the extraordinary efforts taken to try and save these babies are expensive. In the United States alone, premature births cost $26 billion, and if that money could be used to help save lives that have better chances of being saved, then we have to at least consider that fact.

Modern medicine is amazing, and our instinct is to fix anything and everything and marvel at our powers. But sometimes that power goes too far, and we have to step back and let nature step in to guide us. That's tough for me to say, because if doctors had stepped aside when my son was born, I don't think he would be with us today, and that very thought crushes me. But there has to be a line drawn somewhere it seems, a humane line that doesn't try to force a life that may not be meant to be. I don't know if 24 weeks is the line, but it is an important part of the discussion that's going to continue as prematurity rates continue to rise.

Do you think very premature babies should be resuscitated?

Image via Cesar Rincon/Flickr


baby health, baby first year


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Cari'ssa Burnett Karol-Chik

I don't think babies are ever "left to die." I think that is a dangerous generalization. I'm not sure how I feel about the subject though. I've always played devils advocate and tried to find the pros and cons of every issue I'm faced with. All children are worth every penny we have! But what about the parents who can't afford to continue life-long medical care? What happens when you HAVE spent your every last dollar on the child and there are still 40 or more years to go? Landlords want rent, not sad stories. The grocery store won't take tears in replace of money. The power company's can run on sympathy. It takes money. Our taxes are unable to pay for every medical/physical/mental need that may come along. I'm perfectly happy to pay my taxes and pay for as much as possible. But if that isn't enough, then the child is left with inadequate care and the parents are put into poverty with no way out. Overly stressed out parents. Siblings suffering too. Not everyone has the education or skills to make enough money to provide these things. But if it was me? I'd probably want every penny in the world used to save my child. There is no wrong or right answer. Every child, every parent and every situation is different with endless possibilities of outcomes. We all need to support the parents in whatever road they take. Be it the hard road, or the harder.

glitt... glitterbug898

My daughter was a 30 week preemie. She was born not breathing and had to be given oxygen to breathe for the first days of her life while the steroids given matured her lungs. Usually with pre-term births, they give steroids 48 hours before if possible, but from the beginning of my labor to her delivery was only 5 hours. My daughter was considered at risk for health issues due to prematurity, but she is now a healthy 10 month old with NO health issues wahtsoever from being preemie, besides her gross motor skills being delayed and in time with her adjusted age. I cannot imagine someone not recessuitating her becuase it is too expensive. Maybe I am biassed, no, I take that back, I am biased because of my own preemie miracle baby, but I cannot imagine putting a price-tag on the life (or the decision to not give her a chance at it) of my sweet miracle.

celes... celestegood

Babies born at twenty weeks, twenty one, and sometimes twenty two weeks gestation are actually left to die.  They tell the parents its too early, and they are given the baby and some privacy.  Baby is bundled and is held by his loving parents until he/she passes on.  Sad, tragic.  I don't have any answers here.  There is no black and white answer. 

All babies should be given a chance, and parents should be making an informed decision.

Beths... Bethsunshine

it just makes me sick how life has no value anymore

nonmember avatar Lesley

Twenty years ago, before the development of artificial surfactant, the age at which a fetus was considered viable (that is to say the baby has a chance at surviving if born at that point) was a lot later than 24 weeks. What if nobody had ever bothered to even TRY to develop new methods to assist earlier births? The technology that allowed your son to survive wouldn't exist.

Am I suggesting that there is infinite potential for earlier and earlier preemies? No. There will be a point where medical intervention has taken us as far as it can. But who is this doctor to decide we've reached that point already?

nonmember avatar Jen

I don't know who is the bigger monster - this "doctor" or the author. The line has to be drawn somewhere? Easy to say when it's not your baby and nervy of you to say that since your preemie was saved my medical intervention. So many people get in an uproar about abortion but this doctor is suggesting what amounts to the flat out murder of newborns. Here's an idea of where to draw the line: don't feed and house murderers and sex offenders. Strip them and send them out to the desert to die. Let's not pay politicians six and seven figure salaries. There you go. That would save billions.

Freela Freela

I think parents should be given the facts and should be allowed to make the decision about what measures they would like taken.  It's a very important decision and should be in the hands of the mom and dad.

One of my friends had a son who was born, alive, at 23 weeks.  The hospital flat out refused to try to save him because they said it was against their policy based on gestational age and size.  Whenever she hears of a baby who was born around that time and survived, even with major issues, she is broken-hearted and so angry that her son was not even given that opportunity.  Even if they couldn't save him, just being given the choice to do something for her son would have given my friend and her dh so much more peace of mind.

caris... carissakc

I applaud the author of this article for bringing a very emotional subject to light.  You are not a monster as someone has called you in an earlier post.  Congratulations on the health of your premie.  I'm sure you agree it is very sad that not all can claim such a victory.  Those who take this subject to "murder" of premies or the elderly are unfortunately so emotional they don't seem to be able to have a calm, respectful and intelligent discussion.  They resort to name calling and go completely off subject. Fanatical it seems.  You could link any number of  controversies to this..."kill babies, kill the elderly, kill criminals, kill the weak."  Come on!  That is ridiculous.  The author NEVER suggested that any human being should be killed.  So Jen, do you really think murderers and sex offenders should be left to die...debatible.  On one hand...yeah!  They are HORRIBLE people.  I don't like supporting them.  But on the other...what about the falsley accused.  It might be you or someone you love someday.  Are you willing to risk their lives?  I think CafeMom discussions should be a place where parents can go to seek all types of advice and opinion.  But let's leave the name calling out of it.  It doesn't accomplish anything.  Convince people to agree with you. Don't bully them into it.

Rose Savoie

kangarro care.

Becky... BeckyMitch

Having had multiple preemies, having held my son born at 19 weeks and my second son born at 22 weeks (alive), I can tell you (and it is heartbreaking) that there IS a point, when you know that there is no way to save these tiny little angels.  We had to make the decision to either subject our second angel Carson to a painful few minutes or peaceful ones held in my arms.  We chose to hold him.  And within minutes he has passed away.  If you have never held a baby that small, then you just cannot comprehend.  Its heartbreaking to say we cant save these tiny angels, but its reality.

My 27 weeker was 2lbs when he was born and is now a happy healthy 21 month old...this is modern miracle.  When I was in the hospital, fighting to keep him in utero, I was told over and over and over, that every day counts, every minute counts. Babies need that time in utero and until we find a medical marvel that can mimick that, these tough choices will have to be made.

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