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


To add a comment, please log in with

Use Your CafeMom Profile

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Comment As a Guest

Guest comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.

Beths... Bethsunshine

There should be no "line"!!! Once we start drawing that "line", there is no going back and the line will only get moved further back!!  Once we start saying "Babies born before 24 weeks should be left to die" then you could just as easily change that to 26 weeks or 28 weeks or 30 weeks.  My niece and nephew were both born premature, one at 35 weeks and one at 33 weeks. I know that isn't as extreme as 24 weeks, but they were born with complications and some doctor could just as easily have said, " There is no hope, just let them die' because they didn't want to bother.  You could just as easily say the same thing for a full-term baby who is born with complications. These kind of decisions should be left up to the parents and ONLY the parents!!

niami... niamibunni

It is life. It is a person. Yes, we should do everything in our power to keep the child alive.

happy... happymom1988

i agree wthenguyenclan ......

throwing uptsk tskangry

damn this doctor ! how the heck can she dare to say that a baby born too premature should be left to die ? isnt that agony for teh baby as well ? .... sure , teh medical treatment needed to keep the baby alive may be painful as she describes it but is all worth it to teh parents !

the $$$ she is talking about isnt getting taken out of her check or anything so she should just shut the fuck up and continue to do her work , or work in another field ........................

i dont wanna have my unborn baby born too prematurely because i dont want him/her to deal w so much  but i dont worry about the money because the money can be obtain in soooo many ways , such as working , fundraising , selling stuff , etc ..... a child ? not many options .... like couples who can have babies naturally .... so as she can see a baby cant be bought , medical costs canb be paid ! 

i dont mind working my butt offfffff to paid a child's of mine medical bills that will ensure me his/her safety and this doctor should be counting her blessings  !

mamao... mamaof4toddlers

no doctor should make that decision it should be the parents decision yes its expensive but if that child has a chance to a life why not give them that chance to live this just makes me sick that this doc is saying this crap. poor babies. 

3Guys... 3Guys1Mom

Everyone deserves to be fought for. Everyone. Even if the out come looks slim and as a shot in the dark it should be taken. EVERYONE deserves that. 

frogg... froggyt11

both my husband and my step dad were 22 weekers  neither have long term health problems. my husband is in the army and my step dad is former special forces, bull rider, scuba instructor and cop.

i understand sometimes these babies can not be saved, but everyone of them deserves to have a chance.

nonmember avatar Mike M

One thing I'd like to stress is that we typically have a narrow view of what life is (which also typically excludes plants and animals as that is more convenient for those among us who hold the religious belief that one should not take the life of another...). When someone dies we assume that a life was lost - in realty the only thing that occurred was that our selfish, possessive, hopeful, and ignorant desires and assumptions were not met. The soul of a premature baby that dies was alive before the baby was born and their soul is still alive after the baby dies. The baby does not lose its life - just its body. In places such as Africa they are much more willing to accept the human body for what it truly is: a disposable object. Our reluctance to accept this fact causes us untold amounts of grief when someone dies. Now that's not in any way meant to imply that we should treat others (even criminals and people who fight against us) as being disposable (that would be selfish and uncompassionate). It just means that we should be more willing to accept life (regardless of our expectations of what a valuable life may be) for what it is for our soul: a good opportunity to evolve spiritually. Most of the time when someone dies their soul has accomplished whatever goals they wanted to achieve by reincarnating.

Sarah Gibbs

i understand where this article is coming from. not saying i agree with it. just that i understand it. i think every life is worth trying to save no matter size or age or in this case time of delivery.

nonmember avatar charlene

this post is just sad. it makes me so mad. everything has to be about money doesn't it. everyone deserves a chance to live no matter the cost, or the chances they have.

PonyC... PonyChaser

Who are we to decide what kind of condition is "normal" and what cannot be lived with?

I've known delightful, funny, articulate people who have Cerebral Palsy. Do they have difficulties with their lives? Yes. Would they choose to be dead instead? Not likely.

My husband is blind because of an accident. If you ask him now, if he'd rather be blind or have his life before the accident, he would choose blindness every time.

But both of those situations were cited as reasons to let a child die because he would have a condition that would cause him to not be "normal".  But I submit that "normal" should be left to the parents to decide - some families are absolutely prepared to deal with the challenges presented by a special need, other families may not be. And in still other situations, a family may decide to put the child up for adoption to another family who can handle special needs.

But to simply say, "XX weeks = death" is foolish.  As someone else pointed out, even if that child ultimately dies, there have been lessons learned that might help the next premie who comes along.

31-40 of 73 comments First 23456 Last