A study has been released showing that survival rates for very premature babies have remained ‘static’ for the past 15 years. The findings, which have implications for the ongoing debate over the abortion time limit, demonstrate that while more babies born at over 24 weeks do now survive, the longer term rates for babies born at 22 and 23 weeks have not improved.
The British study, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, looked at 230 babies born at 22 and 23 weeks. Over the course of 15 years, the length and intensity of treatment of pre-term infants appeared to increase, the longer term survival rates did not. The findings are in keeping with those of the major ‘Epicure’ study, which showed that while survival rates for babies borm at 24 and 25 weeks have improved over the last ten years those for younger infants have not, as their organs are simply not sufficiently developed.
Guidelines have been drawn up which recommend no resusitation to be carried out at 22 weeks, and only at the parents’ request at 23 weeks following a full discussion of the possible outcomes. About 20% of babies born at 23 weeks survive, but those that do usually have disabilities.
The study’s findings directly contradict comments made by David Cameron recently. In an interview with the Catholic Herald newspaper, the Tory leader called for a cut in the abortion time limit to 20 or 22 weeks. Asked whether he would press for a reduction, he said there should be a review. “I think that the way medical science and technology have developed in the past few decades does mean that an upper limit of 20 or 22 weeks would be sensible,” he said.
Mr Cameron’s views highlight not only the extent to which much of the debate on abortion disregards medical evidence and scientific opinion, but the exclusion of the experiences, needs and rights of women, from the debate. For the small number of women each year whose circumstances require a later abortion, a reduction in the time limit would have disastrous consequences for their well-being and health.
Dr Miriam Stoppard has recently written an excellent article on this issue, published in the Daily Mirror.