Saving extremely premature babies. A new study shows many can survive as early as 22 weeks. We’ll look at the techniques, the ethics and the life-long impact.
For premature infants, “preemies,” the earliest age of viability outside the womb has been seen for a while now as 24 weeks. Less than that and the consensus was you have a problem. Little chance of surviving. Little chance of living a good life. But the boundary may be moving. With the right, intensive treatment, premature babies may survive at just 23 weeks. Maybe 22. But that is small and young. One pound. Many do not survive. Those who do take months of treatment and may have lifelong problems. It’s a hard choice. This hour On Point: preemies, pushing boundaries.
-- Tom Ashbrook
Dr. Edward Bell, neonatologist and pediatrician. Co-author of "Between-Hospital Variation in Treatment and Outcomes in Extremely Preterm Infants" in the New England Journal of Medicine. Professor of pediatrics and neonatology at the University of Iowa.
Dr. Mark Mercurio, director of the program for biomedical ethics at the Yale School of Medicine, where he is also a professor of pediatrics.
Dr. Jennifer Needle, pediatric intensive care physician. Assistant professor of pediatric critical care at the University of Minnesota Medical School and the Center for Bioethics.
From Tom’s Reading List
New England Journal of Medicine: Between-Hospital Variation in Treatment and Outcomes in Extremely Preterm Infants — "Differences in hospital practices regarding the initiation of active treatment in infants born at 22, 23, or 24 weeks of gestation explain some of the between-hospital variation in survival and survival without impairment among such patients."
New York Times: Premature Babies May Survive at 22 Weeks if Treated, Study Finds — "The study, one of the largest and most systematic examinations of care for very premature infants, found that hospitals with sophisticated neonatal units varied widely in their approach to 22-week-olds, ranging from a few that offer no active medical treatment to a handful that assertively treat most cases with measures like ventilation, intubation and surfactant to improve the functioning of babies’ lungs."
TIME: How a New Study on Premature Babies Could Influence the Abortion Debate — "A new study showing that a tiny percentage of extremely premature babies born at 22 weeks can survive with extensive medical intervention could change the national conversation about abortion, though the research is unlikely to have a major effect on women’s access to abortions in the short term."
This program aired on May 13, 2015.