23 Week Babies

Last night I watched a programme on the BBC called 23 Week Babies. It was a very emotional and thought provoking documentary on babies that had been born at 23 weeks. They’re severely under-developed, can’t breathe unassisted and require virtually 24 hour medical attention.

It brought up many ethical dilemmas, and whilst I know what I would (or at least think I would) do in this situation, it also made me reevaluate my opinion in other areas.

Firstly I want to discuss the term baby. We ofcourse all know what one is, but it’s the specifics I’m after. Personally it annoys me when a pregnant women refers to her fetus as a baby. Is it a baby yet? What is the point of babyfication? Is it the moment of conception, the moment of birth, or some iffy area in between? It can’t be the moment of conception right, it’s just a jumble of cells at that point. Could it be the moment of birth, if so what happens when it is born in this ‘iffy area’ in between? Is it a baby because it has been born or is it a fetus that isn’t developed? This is a very difficult question to answer.

The thing that shocked me most was the fact that parents had the ultimate choice in the situation. Regardless of what doctors said, whether they’re in severe pain and face no chance of survival beyond a few days, the parents can still say, keep him or her going. They seemed petrified of ‘killing’ their own child. Is this killing though? It seemed to me emotion getting in the way of the real matter at hand.

The programme went to Holland to film what happened over there. Doctors there do nothing to help and resuscitate and 23 week baby. They merely say if they did they’d prolong unnecessary pain. The statistics show that the vast majority of 23 weekers resuscitated only live on average 6 weeks longer than is necessary. Is this right? Should we help them survive just to live for 6 more agonising weeks?

There are also major dangers in saving a 23 week baby. Their lungs, heart, brain and other internal organs are firstly grossly underdeveloped. Tubes are inserted into the lungs to help them breathe. This can lead to lung cancer in a lot of cases however.

The next question comes up is one which relates to the tiny number of those that survive (something like 9 in 100 survive). Due to being born so early, with their underdevelopments, severe disabilities can ensue. The babies can get extensive brain damage, a fact that would stay with them and affect them for life. Is it right to allow a baby an un-fulfilling, painful life?

This brings up a separate issue. If during a normal pregnancy you find your child has a disability, whether through the mother drinking or other, should you terminate or not? Is this a similar issue, or completely different? Another difficult and arguable situation.

All in all, I highly recommend the programme. Very thought provoking and filmed incredibly well on such a difficult subject. But what do you think? – Should we fix people just because we can?

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