Saturday, September 12, 2009

This is infanticide

'They won't come and help, sweetie. Make the best of the time you have with him,' says a midwife to a devastated mother

A devastated mother, who watched her premature baby die when doctors refused to help him because he was born two days early, has condemned medical guidelines which said the baby should not be saved.

Sarah Capewell, 23, from Great Yarmouth, gave birth to a baby son when she was 21 weeks and 5 days into her pregnancy and pleaded with doctors and midwives at James Paget Hospital, in Gorleston, Norfolk to admit the newborn infant to a special care baby unit.

However, Ms Capewell’s pleas were ignored and she was told that the doctors and midwives could not help without ‘breaking the rules on standard practice’ as they were following national guidelines saying that babies born before 22 weeks should not be given medical treatment. The hospital staff allegedly told her that they would have tried to save the baby if he had been born two days later.

Ms Capewell, who had previously suffered five miscarriages and has a five-year-old daughter, said doctors refused to even see her son Jayden, who lived for almost two hours without any medical support and had a strong heartbeat.

She said:

‘When he was born, he put out his arms and legs and pushed himself over. A midwife said he was breathing and had a strong heartbeat, and described him as a “little fighter”.

I kept asking for the doctors but the midwife said, “They won't come and help, sweetie. Make the best of the time you have with him”.’

After suffering problems during her pregnancy in October 2008, when she was at 21 weeks and four days, she was not allowed a steroid injection to help to strengthen her baby’s lungs because she had not reached the ‘required’ 22 weeks. For the same reason, she was told to treat her labour as a miscarriage, not a birth.

The Daily Mail reports how Ms Capewell begged one paediatrician, ‘You have got to help’, only for the doctor to respond: ‘No we don't.’

After that, a chaplain arrived at her bedside to discuss bereavement and planning a funeral. She said: ‘I was sitting there, reading this leaflet about planning a funeral and thinking, this is my baby, he isn’t even born yet, let alone dead.’

The medical guidelines for Health Service hospitals advise doctors not to resuscitate premature babies if they are born at less than 23 weeks. The guidelines, which provoked public outrage, were published by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, with the help of the British Association of Perinatal Medicine, in 2006. During a two-year inquiry, the Council’s working party took evidence not just from doctors and nurses in neonatal medicine, but from professors of philosophy, and religious leaders. But however carefully the debate was handled, the categorical nature of its final recommendations had an incendiary effect, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Several months after the guidelines came into effect, the debate on the issue became yet more heated, when it emerged that weeks before the guidance was published, a new world record had been set, with the birth of the youngest ever premature baby to survive. Amillia Taylor, the youngest surviving premature baby so far, was born in Miami, Florida, on 24 October 2006, just 21 weeks and 6 days after gestation and weighed less than 10oz (280g). Last October Amillia celebrated her second birthday.
(See the BBC News report and video)

Miss Capewell said:

‘I could not believe that one little girl, Amillia Taylor, is perfectly healthy after being born in Florida in 2006 at 21 weeks and six days.

‘Thousands of women have experienced this. The doctors say the babies won't survive but how do they know if they are not giving them a chance?’

Ms Capewell said the Health Service guidelines had robbed her son of a chance to live.

She has created a website, Justice for Jayden, campaigning for changes, which has already attracted 5,000 members, including scores of women who have suffered a similar plight. The bereaved mothers who have joined Ms Capewell's campaign say that official statistics on pre-23-week survival are distorted because they are often refused or discouraged from seeking intensive care for such newborns by doctors. They say however small the chance of survival, every baby should be given the chance of life.

Tony Wright, Labour MP, who has backed Ms Capewell’s call for a review of the medical guidelines, said: ‘When a woman wants to give the best chance to her baby, they should surely be afforded that opportunity.’

In 1990, UK Parliament cut the limit from 28 weeks to 24 weeks, in line with scientific evidence that foetuses could exist outside the womb at a younger age. In May 2009, Parliament voted against cutting the upper limit for abortion from 24 weeks to 20 weeks relying on studies on survival of premature babies which show that at 23 weeks, just 16 per cent of the infants will survive – a statistic which has barely changed in a decade.

Well-known historical figures who were born prematurely include Johannes Kepler (born in 1571 at 7 months gestation), Isaac Newton (born in 1643, small enough to fit into a quart mug, according to his mother), Winston Churchill (born in 1874 at 7 months gestation), and Anna Pavlova (born in 1885 at 7 months gestation).

© CCFON 12th September 2009

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