Saving Preemie Lives at Any Price?Sunday, March 9, 2008 23:44
Last May, a journalist named Caryl Rosenthal wrote an article for the American Chronicle, discussing the fate of micro preemies, born to teen, drug-addicted mothers at a single Texas hospital, and placed in the care of the State of Texas. Her views on the resuscitation and treatment of these babies, which she felt was an unjustified use of state funds and tax payer dollars, generated the wrath of many preemie parents across the internet, who felt she was demeaning the value of their children’s lives, wishing them dead or otherwise insulting them.
As a result of the overwhelming email response she received to her article, Rosenthal wrote a response, which was published on the American Chronicle website on March 8, 2008.
The part of her response I found most interesting, was the fact that there is a provision in Texas law (the state where the micro preemies discussed in the article were hospitalized) which allows hospital administrators to terminate life support for individuals on Medicaid. According to Rosenthal, other hospitals in Texas exercise their rights under this provision by choosing not to resuscitate micro preemies in similar situations (ie extremely preterm infants who are wards of the state).
Despite the controversy these articles have generated, I think Rosenthal raises some interesting points about what our responsibilities are to micro preemies born under these circumstances. Had these infants been born to mothers who were able to make medical decisions for them, their mothers would/should have been able to decide whether to resuscitate them or continue with life support. The question is, when this isn’t the case, and the babies in question are under the care of the state, what should we do? Should these babies be universally resuscitated, or should they be given comfort care? Should these babies be saved at all costs, when in too many cases they are destined to live life as foster children without the supportive care of parents who will be strong advocates for them, and who will actively seek the longterm care and therapy they need? Is that our responsibility as tax payers, or are there better ways to utilize the millions of dollars spent to keep these babies alive at a point when many (if not most) neonatologists would find nothing unethical with a parent choosing to end life support?