Thursday, May 7, 2015

Life at 22 weeks?

Another painful article appears in today's New York Times, this time about pre-premies, some of whom survive and may grow up to lead normal lives.

A new study of thousands of premature births reports that out of 78 babies given medical support to keep them alive after birth at about 22 weeks, 18 survived.

Of those 18:
7 had no apparent moderate or severe impairments--as toddlers.
6 had "serious problems such as blindness, deafness, or severe cerebral palsy."
5 had problems somewhere in between.

Parents desperate to have a child may want that baby no matter how seriously impaired he or she may be.

But when the child becomes a young adult, will he or she have a decent chance at life?  How many will develop physical or mental problems after the age when this study ended?

"At 22 weeks, in my opinion, the outcomes are so dismal that I don't recommend any interventions," comments Dr. Jeffrey M. Perlman, medical director of neo-natal intensive care at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Yes, there are implications for the debate over when legal abortions can be done--the Supreme Court has ruled that states must allow abortions when the fetus is not viable outside the womb.  If "viable" becomes 22 weeks or 20 weeks, that affects women's choices.

We should set aside the abortion debate, however, when considering whether to try to save babies estimated to be at about 22 weeks after the woman's last menstrual period.  (Because ovulation and conception occur a week or two after menstruation, the fetuses are actually younger than 22 weeks.)

In setting medical care guidelines, we should think only about the parents and the pre-premies they want to save.  

No two cases will be alike, partly because women don't always know when their last period began.

As a parent, I hope medical centers will not try to save these very tenuous young lives.  

The gift of life can so easily become a burden for young people competing for social acceptance and economic survival.  Ten persons aged 15-24 took their own lives out of every 100,000 in the US in 2013.

Steering a child around the obstacles of alcohol, drugs, crime, peer pressure, and violence is hard enough when the child has excellent health.

The quest for pre-premie life at any price--financially, physically, and emotionally--does not make sense.

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