Premature Births And Advancing Medical Technology: More Harm Than Good?

Posted on March 20, 2011 in Health and Life


By Srishti Chauhan:

Advancing medical technology ranging from Neonatal intensive care units to Caesarian sections after only 21 weeks of gestation the medical field is experiencing break-through inventions rapidly. Of particular interest is the art of saving a baby whose organs are not developed enough to allow normal postnatal survivals commonly called a preterm baby.

One of the main organs greatly affected by premature birth is the lungs. The lungs are one of the last organs to develop in the womb; because of which, premature babies need to be on a ventilator for some duration after birth. Due to the lack of well-developed body mechanisms, these babies often suffer from a wide range of ailments some of which include blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, asthma, cardio-vascular complications and various muscle and bone disorders.

Major debates regarding the act of “going against nature” to save a life which would otherwise not have survived are doing rounds in medical as well as non-medical circles. This topic, in many aspects, is similar to the idea of euthanasia. Whether or not a human being is entitled to decide whether another human should be allowed to survive is not only controversial but highly convoluted.

Babies who are born before at least 28 weeks of gestation are prone to many mental illnesses as well. In fact, as per the England Journal of Medicine, instances of mental illness are 22% in preterm babies saved by artificial measures as compared to only 17% in normal babies.

Majority of excessively preterm babies, in fact, tend to become children with “special needs”. Of great significance is the social cost of giving care to a child with such special needs. Often, one of the parents of such a child has to be with the child at all points in time often sacrificing the desire for another child, family and career for the same.

Another problem faced by such a parent is the forceful negligence towards the other children, if any. The parents are hardly ever able to give enough time to the “normal” child and this often leads to much psychiatric instability in neglected child ranging from very severe to extremely mild depending on the case.

An important incident discovered in recent past is the care-givers syndrome that people who are full-time care-givers suffer from. The lack of time to care for oneself makes these people compulsive in their attitude towards care-giving. They often are so engrossed with the idea of caring for the person with special needs that this becomes close to an addiction for them. Another appalling fact about the care giver’s syndrome is that it leads to low levels of T-helper cells an occurrence associated with HIV positive people. A crucial cost to pay one life for another!

The decision of choosing whether a life form should or should not exist cannot lie in the hands of any judge or administrative body or even the government. Undeniable is the fact that there are many parents who are heroic in their attempts and sacrifices that they make continually to lead a happy life with their child. There are many parents who happily accept this responsibility of bringing up a child with extreme needs and see this as an added responsibility that destiny chose to bestow on them.

However, one thing is certain- the liability isn’t such that many people can afford. Apart from being mentally and emotionally taxing, the entire ordeal is monetarily excruciating. There are very few agencies in India that help a child with special needs be schooled and taught like any other child. The same applies for other countries. Even the most developed countries have such child care system that only the rich few can afford to send their child to a special care school.

All these social costs make it a pertinent question: Is such a life worth saving? Incontestable is the fact that such special needs human beings are hardly ever able to lead a full life. Wearing hearing aids since they were 2 months old and spectacles since they were 6 such lives can hardly be considered normal and despite infinite attempts at making them so, we fall short.

The question that remains is whether or not the harnessed medical expertise should be used to save a life which would have been better off unsaved? Are improvements in medical technology always for the best?

The writer is a Delhi based Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.