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Babies can live outside the womb as early as 22 weeks, science shows

Premature babies

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(NaturalNews) A study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) will undoubtedly add more controversy to the already heated subject of abortion; it was found that premature babies are surviving earlier outside of the womb -- specifically, at just 22 weeks. Furthermore, it was discovered that some of these children, with proper medical treatment, can go on to survive and live completely healthy lives.

The discovery has created a great deal of discussion ranging from timing and approach of medical treatments to, of course, heightened debate on the abortion front. From an abortion standpoint, the Supreme Court maintains that states must allow abortion provided a fetus is not viable outside the womb. Most medical professionals consider the age of viability as 24 months; the new finding brings about questions surrounding the issue.(1)

Professor says these babies "deserve a chance," while neonatologist warns of "consequences"

For example, Edward Bell, a pediatrics professor at the University of Iowa and a co-author of the study, says he considers 22 weeks to be the new marker of viability. "That's what we think, but this is a pretty controversial area," he said. "I guess we would say that these babies deserve a chance."(2)

Danielle Pickering knows about chance. She gave birth to a child, born at just 22 weeks, in 2012. She says he was the sickest baby in intensive care, where he remained for four months, and that he even had heart surgery. However, Pickering explains that, today, he's a lively three-year-old who has a slight delay in speech and chronic lung disease.(1)

On the other hand, Jonathan Muraskas, a neonatologist at Loyola University Medical Center in Illinois, disagrees. He would likely home in on the fact that Pickering's child has chronic lung problems as a reason to reconsider the actions taken at such an early stage. "We just seem to be resuscitating more and more tinier babies, and there are consequences," he said, explaining that, in some instances, cerebral palsy is common. "How low do we go and what are the implications?"(3)

However, according to the study, differences in a doctor's approach to treatment is an essential factor during this time. "A large proportion of the variation [in outcome], especially at 22, 23 and 24 weeks, can be explained by differences in whether treatment was initiated," said Iowa University medical student Matthew Rysavy, the paper's first author.(3)

Approach to treatment key to health of babies born at 22 months

For instance, not every medical professional deems a premature birth at 22 months as one in which aggressive treatments should even be entertained. Often, a birth at this juncture is considered high-risk. Therefore, more often than not, parents and doctors opt for treatments that aren't aggressive. However, the study found that, when given the chance that Bell speaks of, babies born at 22 months can survive -- providing the medical attention they receive is highly involved and detailed. This means that the baby likely needs equipment such as ventilators and feeding tubes as opposed to an approach that utilizes comfort or palliative care.(3)

For the study, thousands of babies born between 22 and 27 weeks were studied. It was found that when a very active, aggressive approach was taken by doctors, babies born as soon as 22 weeks were able to survive; the percentage of survival was 23.1 percent and 15.4 percent for survival without a serious impairment.(2,4)

According to a summary in the NEJM, "Between-hospital variation in outcomes among extremely preterm infants is largely unexplained and may reflect differences in hospital practices
regarding the initiation of active lifesaving treatment as compared with comfort care after birth. ... Active treatment was defined as any potentially lifesaving intervention administered after birth."(5)


(1) http://www.nytimes.com

(2) http://www.washingtonpost.com

(3) http://www.newsmax.com

(4) http://www.sciencedaily.com

(5) http://www.nejm.org

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