By Dave Andrusko
The good news is that Jacob McMahon, born just 23 weeks into pregnancy, at a weight of 1lb, is now deemed healthy enough to go home. The alarming news is that Jacob, Britain’s most premature surviving twin, was almost aborted!
The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday that Jacob was born February 22 “twelve hours before doctors would have demanded a final decision from the family on whether to terminate the pregnancy.” Although the story is written as if 24 weeks is an absolute limit on abortions in England, it is not. But clearly mother Sara Fisher, 25, and father Scott McMahon, 26 believed they were up against that deadline.
The backdrop is the death of Jacob’s twin sister. Emie had died from an infection eight days earlier when she was born at 21 weeks and six days. Jacob hung on at which point, according to the Telegraph, doctors offered Sara a shocking option.
“We couldn’t believe it when doctors told us we had to consider abortion,” Sara told Science Correspondent Nick Collins. “They told us I had an infection and that he wouldn’t survive. They gave us 24 hours to decide whether we wanted to take a tablet that could stop his heart.
“We did not want to do that but luckily that decision was taken away from us when I went into labour at midnight.”
Jacob has grown to 7lb 3oz and doctors told the Telegraph that the little boy’s health is steadily improving.
“It feels surreal being home,” Sara said. “It is a day that was not spoken of because we thought it would never happen.”
There is a lot of context—the debate over when to aid premature babies– that adds to the drama.
Two years ago doctors refused to help Sarah Capewell’s premature baby because he was born after 21 weeks and five days. “Staff at James Paget Hospital in Gorleston, Norfolk, told her they would have tried to save him if he had been born two days later,” according to Collins.
The reason the child was not assisted was because of guidelines drawn up by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in 2006 and strengthened by advice published by the British Association of Perinatal Medicine in 2009. “The guidelines were clear: no baby below 22 weeks gestation should be resuscitated,” according to Laura Donnelly, Health Correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.
“If a child was born between 22 and 23 weeks into pregnancy it should not be standard practice to offer medical intervention, which should only be given if parents requested it, and following a thorough discussion about the likely outcomes, the document said.”
There is some pressure, to date unsuccessful, to change those guidelines, in light of recent premature births including a German girl named Freida. She “was named the world’s most premature baby to survive after being delivered just 21 weeks and five days into pregnancy.”
A story surfaced in April that Frieda, now weighing in a little over seven pounds, was being sent home. (See www.nationalrighttolifenews.org/news/2011/04/very-premature-baby-goes-home-healthy).
Consultant neonatologist Dr Sam Oddie, who was heavily involved in Jacob’s care, offered this curious rationale for the decision to ask the parents to consider an abortion: “We have never had a baby survive at 23 weeks before.” He added, “His twin sister was born so early there was no prospect of her being able to survive and we were extremely concerned whether Jacob could survive”!