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About 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK, a small proportion of whom are considered extremely premature

Doctors should routinely try to save the lives of babies born after 22 weeks, according to new clinical guidelines

  • In 2008, about two in ten babies & # 39; s born after 23 weeks survived after treatment
  • About four out of ten babies currently born and treated are now surviving, data shows
  • Around 60,000 babies are born prematurely in the UK every year, figures show
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Doctors should routinely try to save the lives of babies born after 22 weeks, according to new clinical guidelines.

Medical advances mean that chances of survival for extremely premature babies are better than ever before.

Guidelines published today state that doctors must change their practice as a result.

But the announcement also led to outrage from pro-life campaigners, who said that the 24-week abortion limit should also be lowered to reflect the viability of a baby at this stage of pregnancy.

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The number of extremely premature babies that are being treated and survived has doubled in just over a decade.

About 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK, a small proportion of whom are considered extremely premature

About 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK, a small proportion of whom are considered extremely premature

Ten years ago it was virtually unheard of for babies to survive if they were born before 23 weeks of pregnancy – and earlier guidelines suggested doctors just give palliative care to make them comfortable.

But by 2016, around 35 percent of those who received & # 39; active care & # 39; to save their lives another year later.

New guidelines published today by the British Association of Perinatal Medicine say that improved chances of survival mean that doctors should routinely try to resuscitate babies born so early.

They emphasize that the wishes of the parents must be taken into account on a case-by-case basis – and point out that the majority of babies born so early will not make it.

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And of those who survive, a third will be left with severe disabilities.

But according to the guidelines it is & # 39; appropriate & # 39; to try to extend their lives.

Guidance author Dominic Wilkinson, professor of medical ethics at Oxford University, said that these & # 39; complex ethical decisions & # 39; cannot be traced to simple rules.

But he added: “What we encourage is the idea that decisions have to be made on a case-by-case basis, what we need to recognize is that it is appropriate to try intensive care for some babies born so early. , those who have a favorable risk have factors where parents are advised and wish this to be tried.

& # 39; 22-week-old babies with unfavorable risk factors can run an extremely high risk of dying or suffering from very serious complications, and in that situation the framework recommends that palliative care be the normal approach. & # 39;

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Professor Wilkinson added: & # 39; One of the problems is that medicines are constantly evolving and what we have put together is a framework based on what we know at the moment.

& # 39; We cannot say what is possible in the future, but we come across the limits of physiology.

& # 39; So babies & # 39; s developing in the womb develop only the very first parts of the lung that are able to exchange oxygen after 22 weeks of pregnancy, and therefore some may survive just after 22 weeks, but for that moment they have no possibility of oxygen in their blood. & # 39;

John Deighan, deputy director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said that efforts to save babies born before the 24-week limit for abortion were a & # 39; shocking contradiction & # 39; uncovers.

& # 39; We rightly acknowledge the value of small premature lives in this new policy, so how can we continue to allow laws that allow killing babies & # 39; s at the same age through elective abortion ? & # 39;

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But a spokeswoman for the UK Pregnancy Advice Service said: “There is no contradiction between doing everything we can, so that babies who are born long before they are ready for the world have the chance to live, and ensuring that the very small number of women who must stop pregnancies in the last weeks of the second trimester, often in incredibly tragic and desperate circumstances, can do that. & # 39;

Professor Wilkinson said the abortion threshold is a & # 39; sensitive & # 39; question is for society as a whole – but said it was not in its place to comment on whether the limit should be lowered.

WHAT IS A PREMATURE BIRTH, AND WHAT ARE THE RISKS FOR BABY & # 39; S?

About 10 percent of all pregnancies worldwide result in premature birth – defined as giving birth before 37 weeks.

When this happens, not all organs of the baby, including the heart and lungs, are developed. They can also be underweight and smaller.

Tommy & # 39; s, a charity in the UK, says this may mean that preemies are not ready for life outside the womb.

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Premature birth is, according to figures, the leading cause of neonatal death in the US and the UK.

Babies born early cause about 1500 deaths in the UK every year. In the US, 17 percent of infant mortality is the result of premature birth and complications.

Babies born prematurely are often taken to neonatal intensive care units, where they are cared for 24 hours a day.

What are the chances of survival?

  • Less than 22 weeks is almost zero chance of survival
  • 22 weeks is around 10%
  • 24 weeks is around 60%
  • 27 weeks is around 89%
  • 31 weeks is around 95%
  • 34 weeks corresponds to a baby born on full term

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