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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Lorel... LorelNicolette

I don't see this ever happening in the U.S.  Hospitals are too scared to let nature take it's course given the risk of liability.

Here's a thought though.  How about we stop electing to schedule non-medically necessary births before term.  Further, how about we weigh the risks more carefully when there is a medical reason to bring a baby into the world early.  There are consequences when we decide to take matters into our own hands, and the medical intervention that follows does cost society a pretty penny. 

I believe that if we took a wait and see approach more often, we would probably wouldn't have the soaring maternity costs we currently see.  Our bodies might also surprise us in the process.  I am a believer, that when given a chance, the body is more than capable of working through most issues. 

cmari... cmarie452

I can't really think of anything to say. I'm sad and angry that a post like this would even be written much less published.  A life is a life. After my niece suffered a tramatic brain injury at 1 month a lot of people said she should just be left to die because what sort of life would she have if she ever came out of the coma.  A happy one, that's what kind.  She may be permanently disabled but she is a very much loved little girl and she deserved to live even though saving her was "too expensive".

Lorel... LorelNicolette

I just want to clarify, that I do believe that babies in need should be saved.  I just don't see how this argument can even be considered, when there is no much unnecessary spending with all the elective interventions and questionable practices that are present in our current maternity system.  I think that those issues need to be dealt with before we start targeting innocent, premature babies in need. 

jalaz77 jalaz77

What does "left to die" even mean?? If they make the last moments of baby comfy and calm for baby and family then I understand. Not sure how I feel completely though. I have a very bad image of this. I need more info on this dr and her reasoning than this article. No way would a medical dr deliver a baby and let a baby struggle while

jalaz77 jalaz77

It died. Just need more info.

Memph... MemphisSuzi

Having had preemies BEFORE AND AFTER  the magic 24 week # - I can assure you in most hospitals babies are not left to die.  BUT knowing several NICU nurses at private and public (welfare/medicaid/indigent) hospitals there is a HUGE difference.  Sad but true.  We could afford health insurance and health care and our 24 weeker was saved.  Our 22 weeker was not but every effort was made to save him. Had I been on Medicaid or had no insurance -- I cant say the same thing would have happened.  Money is a fact of life, hospitals dont have an unending supply of it - sucks but its true.

nonmember avatar traveler

Every preemie baby is different and should be evaluated individually. Some younger than 22 weeks can be saved and some older than 24 weeks can't be saved. The evaluation should be done with science and compassion. There really is a "line in the sand" delineating if a baby can be saved or not. Trying to save babies who are physically unable to survive is just torture for the baby and heartrending for the parent who is given hope where there is none.

Curio... Curious11

Every parent would want to think their preemie would be the miracle baby. Logic escapes a lot of people in trials like these.

As harsh as it sounds, I agree with you.  A 24 week birth and millions of dollars to save a child that God or whoever undoubtedly had other plans for doesn't make any sense to me.  Especially if that child will likely not be able to ever function on it's own or out of a hospital. 


BowCh... BowChckBowwow

My daughter was born at 23 weeks and 3 days.  She weighed 1 lb 4 oz and was 11 3/4 inches long.  I did get asked if we wanted them to everything they possibly could to keep her alive.  We said yes.  We were informed that if the breathing tube did not fit because they only make them so small then there would be nothing more they could do.  I believe for some reason, the tube fit.  My daughter had to have surgery to have her pda closed.  She had to be flown to Minneapolis, MN for this as we do not have surgeons who could work on her here.  A week after her surgery and being in Minneapolis she was diagnosed with Nec.  Her bowel perforated (the last stage before a baby can die from Nec).  I believe for some reason her pda didnt close so she could be in Minneapolis with the surgeons when she got the Nec.  My daughter went through sooo much while being in the NICU here and in Minneapolis.  4 surgeries, infections, setbacks, etc.. it was a roller coaster.. if they gave me same option today of whether to try everything or try nothing..

BowCh... BowChckBowwow

i would choose try everything.  She is now 6 months old but 2 months corrected age.. she is 9 lbs 8 oz and 21 inches long.  I know that things can happen in her future such as mental retardation.. learning disabilities.. cerebral palsy.. etc... but let me ask you this question.. no one knows what the future holds.. but i will love my child regardless.. there is a reason she was a fighter and survived.. and no matter what .. I will give her the best life that i possibly can.

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