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Ethics Panel Wants Opinions On Saving Premature Newborns
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 11, 2005

LONDON, ENGLAND--A panel studying medical ethics is asking the public for opinions on when -- or if -- premature newborns and those with certain disabilities or medical conditions should be helped to survive.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which provides information to for policy-making and stimulating debate in bioethics, established a Working Party last October to consider the ethical, social, legal and economic issues involved in keeping such babies alive.

"Modern medicine can now sustain the life of extremely premature or critically ill babies who in the past would not have survived birth," read a statement on the Council's web site. "Many such babies do well but it is difficult to predict which babies will thrive and how their lives and those of their families will develop. This uncertainty raises difficulties for parents and doctors when making decisions about treatment."

The debate intensified over the past few months with news coverage of the conflict between hospitals and the parents of two British babies with disabilities.

A Portsmouth hospital has been battling the parents of Charlotte Wyatt, who weighed just one ounce and had serious heart and lung problems when was born three months premature in October 2003. Charlotte's parents say their girl is alert, responds to light, sound and loves to be cuddled. Her doctors argue that Charlotte is deaf, blind, makes no movement on her own, and feels no sensations except constant pain. They convinced the court that it would not be in Charlotte's best interest to be kept alive if she stops breathing on her own.

Last November, nine-month-old Luke Winston-Jones, who was born with Edwards syndrome and three holes in his heart, died in a Liverpool hospital. His death came three weeks after the High Court Family Division ruled that doctors could refuse "aggressive treatment" to resuscitate him if he stopped breathing.

The cases of these and other similar children highlight a growing disagreement between disability rights groups and medical professionals over who should decide whether a person -- particularly newborns -- with certain disabilities or medical conditions should die.

The Council will take comments through June 9, and plans to publish its final report towards the end of 2006.

"Public asked on sick babies' care" (BBC News)
Nuffield Council on Bioethics
Consultation paper: "The ethics of prolonging life in fetuses and the newborn" (Nuffield Council on Bioethics)
[PDF format requires free Adobe Acrobat Reader]

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