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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babyl... babylovies

We have a "million dollar baby" in my family. Born at only 6 months and 1lb 6oz and 13 inches long, she is now a "grown" sassy 9 year old. She has some problems with eye sight, but then again my whole family does, so it may just be bad genes? It cost over a million dollars for her care after her birth and the few months she was in the hospital following. If we all had to work ourselves to the bone for the rest of our lives to pay for her care we all would. You know why? Because she is priceless, and she fought to survive, and the doctors and nurses who were there with her fought also. You can never repay them, but you always appreciate them.

meatb... meatball77

Like abortion I think it should be the parents choice.  If a Dr want's to reccomend no treatment that's fine but like any other medical decision it should be the decision of the caregiver.  I don't think that treatment should be automatic with very young premies.  It seems so cruel to me to have a premie go through many painful (and outrageously expensive) treatments when there's a huge choice that the child is going to end up a vegetable, but that's my opinion and it should be my choice if I was in that situation just like someone who believed the opposite should be able to choose to go through those treatments in hope of a miracle.

nonmember avatar elfishpirat

Doctors have a duty to save lives. If a baby is born extremely premature, it's STILL ALIVE, and it has a right to life. No doctor or parent has the right to make that call. They should do everything they can to save the child because that's the right thing to do. And, by working to save premature babies, they are perfecting their skill so one day, babies born at 15, 13, 10, even 8 weeks would be able to survive outside of the womb. By saying that babies born before X number of weeks should just be left to die, you open a very scary door into "a baby born with X syndrome, or X disease, or X disability should just be left to die, because it will just be expensive and exhausting to deal with." *angry*

Histo... HistoryMamaX3

It's all about money when you live in a system such as that... which is exactly where we are headed. Logistically- you cannot afford to spend that much money on everyone, and sadly it has to be looked at it that way. There has to be very cut and dry standards- too young or too old... Get used to the idea, because it's coming this way.

Personally- I'd rather spend my every last dollar on trying to save my child, because they are worth it to me, rather than having no choice and just living by a standard set by someone else.

Elizabeth Berens

My best friends daughter was born 3 months early and thank God the hospital did everything they could to keep her alive.  She is now a beautiful 3 year old little spit fire that I can't see not having in my life as her God Mother and things like that.  To say that a child no matter how early should not be saved if possible is just wrong if you ask me.  What about what that mother wants...

Kasey Comingore

would recommending no treatment for a 3 year old with cancer be acceptable? No, it would not. Even if there was only a slim chance the child would survive. it does not matter how little chance there is for survival.  Shame on anyone who thinks it isn't worth the time, energy, and money to keep a sick child alive.  The thought makes me sick.

my baby was born at 31 weeks, while not as premature as some, he still had to fight to be healthy.  Two months, 1 surgery, and $250,000 later, he came home a healthy, happy baby.

TippyD TippyD

people do realize that there are already policies like this in the states right??? we have a friend who had her daughter at 20/21 weeks.. the baby was born alive but because it was under the weight standards by 3 oz. the baby was left with the parents to die.  IMO, if a baby comes out breathing, no matter what the gestational age or size, everything should be done to save the baby, and IF a baby is still born, it should be left up to the parents whether they want extreme measures taken

AnuMeha AnuMeha

I think very premature babies should be resuscitated if they can have normal lives afterwards because that small life is so important for the mom & the rest of the family. But if there are too many complications to be followed by the same life later on then the best can be left to nature. The money can be best utilized in some other area of medicine...

celes... celestegood

It's easy as pie to say don't save babies before X gestation.  But its hard to say the same when that's your baby, your heart.  It should be up to the parents to choose.

theng... thenguyenclan

i agree with kasey .....this post makes me angry on so many levels

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