By Dave Andrusko
Last week we ran a delightful piece by Peter Saunders under the headline “Leading Neonatologist Challenges Resuscitation Policies for Premature Babies as Britain’s Most Premature Surviving Twin Goes Home with Parents.”
Jacob McMahon’s twin had died when she was born at 21 weeks and six days due to an infection. Doctors advised his mother to abort Jacob. “But Jacob followed eight days later, twelve hours before doctors would have demanded a final decision from the family on whether to terminate the pregnancy.”
(Because there are massive loopholes, it is not accurate to say 24 weeks is the upper limit. But doctors use the common belief that it is as leverage.)
Jacob’s survival again raises questions about resuscitation policies for premature babies which inevitably bring up abortion.
Saunders quoted neonatologist Professor John Wyatt who argues that every extremely pre-term baby deserves the chance to be considered for treatment.
That is not the case 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. There is tremendous pressure not to offer “medical intervention” to babies born between 22 and 23 weeks into pregnancy and absolutely no resuscitation for babies below 22 weeks.
It is probably not surprising that Emma Allen, a mother whose child, now five, was born at 23 weeks, is calling for a lowering of England’s 24 week abortion limit.
Now five, Charlie was born weighing just 1lb 7oz. The Daily Mail reports today that at the time of his birth he was the most premature twin to survive.
Charlie’s twin brother, Jack, who was even smaller, died at 11 days old. “[D]octors warned Mr. and Mrs. Allen that Charlie was facing the same fate and at one point gave him just 12 hours to live,” writes Inderdeep Bains. “Charlie’s survival prompted Mrs. Allen to re-ignite the debate on the abortion time limit, and she has called for the current 24-week deadline to be lowered.”
“How can you say at that stage that they are not a life,” she said. ”They are babies–Charlie is living proof of that.”
The Daily Mail story is filled with amazing details. “When he was born he was so tiny he could have fit into my hand, my wedding ring could go all the way up his arm and I wasn’t allowed to hold or stroke him as his skin was so thin it could tear,” Mrs. Allen said. And that “I could see how hard he was fighting to stay alive at every hurdle.” And that Charlie could not go home for five months.
But he did, and Charlie, born so small he could fit into the palm of his mother’s hand and given only a 7% of survival, “has defied the odds by growing into a healthy, happy little boy.”
So how was it that Charlie was resuscitated in the first place? Mrs. Allen gave birth at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, a huge stroke of luck.
“Fortunately for us, there was no blanket policy in place at Norfolk and Norwich,” she said. “It makes me so angry that I want to cry when people say babies at 23 weeks should not be resuscitated.”