The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an independent United Kingdom bioethics think tank, has issued its recommended guidelines for the treatment of prematurely born infants. The very good news is that it rejected infanticide out of hand: “The Council has concluded that the active ending of life of newborn babies should not be allowed, no matter how serious their condition. The professional obligation of doctors is to preserve life where they can. If doctors were to be permitted actively to end the lives of seriously ill newborn babies, there is a risk that the relationship between parents and doctors would be negatively affected. It would also be very difficult to identify an upper age limit beyond which actively ending life would not be allowed.” Bioethicists being bioethicists, I guess they couldn’t just say it would be morally wrong.
The Council also suggested that infants born at 22 weeks gestation or earlier not be given intensive care unless as part of medical experiments. At age 23 weeks, it urges that no intensive care be given unless insisted upon by the parents and doctors agree. At 24 weeks and above, the provision of intensive care would be the norm.
I am not comfortable with such guidelines in that each patient should be evaluated and treated as an individual, not as part of a group. Of course, knowing the odds of survival at any given stage would be part of that agonizing decision making process. I also worry that futile care theory could seep into this process and that infants would be denied treatment because they would be disabled.
Still, it could have been worse.