The bad news is the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists will recommend that babies born alive before the gestational age of 22 weeks not be issued birth certificates, according to Britain’s Sunday Times yesterday, since doing so “causes unnecessary suffering to mothers who wanted an abortion.”
The good news is RCOG’s recommendation may provoke calls to “drop the limit for social abortions from 24 to 22 weeks,” said Dr Vincent Argent, medical director of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, also according to the Times. In Britain, those are illegal.
Hat tip: Rich Collier. Read full article on page 2.
The Sunday Times October 22, 2006
Brief life of premature babies may go unmarked
Sarah-Kate Templeton, Health Correspondent
BABIES born alive at less than 22 weeks gestation should be treated as if they had never existed, even if they breathe, move or their heart beats, a report by a royal college is expected to say.
Guidelines drawn up by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) are expected to recommend that babies born alive before 22 weeks are not routinely issued with a birth certificate.
Doctors say that even if babies born at less than 22 weeks show signs of life, they are extremely unlikely to survive, so their short existence should not be recorded.
About 300 babies are born every year below 22 weeks. The babies survive for only a few minutes and often die in their parents’ arms. While most of these cases are extremely premature births, they also include up to 50 babies born alive after failed abortions.
The RCOG is expected to say that acknowledging that these babies have been born alive, and having to register the births, causes unnecessary suffering to mothers who wanted an abortion. It will say that babies born below 22 weeks are “pre-viable” and not capable of life.
Although very few babies born below 22 weeks are believed to have survived long-term in Britain, statistics have not been kept. At 22 weeks a couple of babies survive in the UK every year. By 23 weeks, 17% survive.
The suggestion not to count babies born below 22 weeks gestation would prove contentious. Dr Paul Clarke, a consultant neonatologist at Norfolk and Norwich University hospital, said: “I find this incredible and deeply disturbing. To pretend that any foetus was born dead when it was actually born with signs of life, no matter how small or immature, would be a grave deception.”
Professor Stuart Campbell, whose 3D ultrasound images of a foetus sucking its thumb at 14 weeks and opening its eyes at 18 weeks, shifted popular opinion on abortion, said society could not deny that babies younger than 22 weeks had been born alive. “If the foetus is making respiratory efforts, its heart is beating and it is moving its limbs then it is born alive. This seems like trying to deny the truth of what is happening,” said Campbell.
In stating that babies become viable at 22 weeks, the RCOG will also provoke further calls to end abortions for social reasons up to 24 weeks.
Dr Vincent Argent, medical director of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, is the latest abortion expert to add his support to lowering the upper limit. “It may be reasonable to drop the limit for social abortions from 24 to 22 weeks in view of the expected RCOG guideline on the pre-viable foetus,” said Argent.
Last year 875 late abortions were carried out at 22 and 23 weeks gestation, which would not be allowed if the cut-off point was reduced to 22 weeks.
Abortions would still be allowed up to birth if the baby had a severe disability or if the mother was in grave danger.
Copyright 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.