Saving Very Premature Babies

Key Ethical Issues


  • Pauline Mifflin, MA(Medical Ethics), CertEd Midwife

The rapid advance in neonatal technology now enables doctors to save the lives of many more very premature babies than ever before. It is now possible to save babies born as early as 21 or 22 weeks' gestation, just over halfway through a pregnancy. This gives hope to many parents whose babies, just a few years ago, would have died. Ironically, many of those who survive at such an early stage are left with profound and multiple learning disabilities as a result of the very treatment that initially saved their lives. They and their families experience very great difficulties as they try to come to terms with all the accompanying stress.

This new book is concerned with the ethical and legal dilemmas faced by doctors and parents when deciding which course of treatment may be best for the child. It also looks at the moral justification, in the light of dwindling NHS resources, of using expensive technology for a relatively few, high risk cases when, by diverting funds, more babies with less risk of severe impairment could be saved.
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Book information

  • Published: April 2003
  • ISBN: 978-0-7506-5412-8

Table of Contents


Section 1: The Child and its family
Chapter 1: Theories and principles of medical ethics
Chapter 2: The very premature baby: a profile
Chapter 3: Effects on the family

Section 2: The Sanctity vs Quality of Life Issue
Chapter 4: Some religious perspectives
Chapter 5: Does Human life have intrinsic value?

Section 3: Withdrawing or withholding treatment
Chapter 6: Acts and omissions Doctrine etc
Chapter 7 : Differing Ethical views (referring to recent guidelines drawn up by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health)

Section 4: The Principle of Justice and Resource Allocation
Chapter 8: Explanation of the Principle of Justice in relation to health care resources
Chapter 9: Medical Triage, quality adjusted life year; implications for neonatal care

Section 5: The legal framework
Chapter 10: Criminal Law and the Duty of Care (for parents and doctors); Killing or Allowing to Die: is there a difference in law?
Chapter 11: Relevant court decisions and their implications
Chapter 12: Conclusions