August 19, 2004

The Lucky Ones

WE WERE QUITE ANNOYED to read an article recently appearing on the “Reuters” newswire regarding premature birth. It would appear that certain doctors are forgetting the oath they took when they entered into the medical profession.

Specifically, we note the comments from one Dr. Jonathan Muraskas of Loyola University Medical Center, whom the wire service notes is “worried by a growing trend to try to save babies that are born far, far too early.” He says:

"We are not miracle workers," Muraskas said. "The survival rate has about peaked." He said parents and hospital workers need to think about the odds.

"A baby today born at 23 weeks, that's about the lowest limit of viability, that translates to about a one-pound baby. The survival rate is about 5 percent to 10 percent," Muraskas said. "The chances of a developmental handicap like blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, is at least 90 percent."

Even older premature babies can have severe health problems. "We put band aids on these babies' little problems but we have to step back and ask what is the quality of life for little babies?"

The report continues:

Dr. Jerold Lucey, the editor of the journal Pediatrics, agreed in a recent commentary.

Tiny babies are born and given drugs, are resuscitated violently and stuck onto ventilators. "Does this make sense?" Lucey asked.

"We should admit how little we know, explain the present bleak outlook for intact survival..." he added. Now, he said, parents are becoming attached to babies doomed to die simply because they can be kept alive for a while in the neonatal intensive care ward.

Now, we admit we take this topic a bit personally, as we happened to once be one of those premature babies about which the doctors speak. Back in the Seventies, we can assure you we were born three and one-half months premature and weighed just one pound, fifteen ounces at birth. We also had those troubling quality-of-life issues over which the doctors are wringing their hands. We still carry the scars from our tracheotomy and our paten ductus operations. We were fed via a tube and we had several blood transfusions. We can further assure you the situation was so bleak that we were baptized just two minutes after our birth, and when the nurses gave us to our father so he could hold us, it was so he could do so before we died. Also, like the baby mentioned in the story, we spent four months in hospital.

To sum it all up, we were among the lucky ones.

Twenty eight years later, we’re still here. Furthermore, we have no memory of all those unfortunate treatments. So it gives us great pleasure to inform Drs. Muraskas and Lucey that we rather enjoy living – period. The quality-of-life concerns can come later, gentlemen, if you don’t mind.

Good God. What sort of callous human being can ask, without any shred of embarrassment or moral concern, whether it makes sense to treat a deathly sick baby with every available device and tool? What miserable wretch can consider living blind or living deaf a worse option than not living at all? Not someone, perhaps, who has found himself in such a position.

Well, we have. So it sickens us that these doctors – who really ought to know better – would even suggest such a thing. It is the same miserable logic once used to justify eugenics and so many other evils which man has introduced into this world. It reeks of the same miserable self-conceit which pushes so many people to assume a role only fit for their Creator. It is not a question which physicians ought debate, not even for a moment. It would be better if they spent their time focusing on new ways to save the lives of these unfortunate infants, and preparing their parents for the probable and worst outcome.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at August 19, 2004 12:40 AM | TrackBack

Right on Ben. There is no life more precious and worth saving then that of a newborn. As someone who knows more than a little bit about your particular case, I can state categorically that the chance for a parent's newborn child to have life outweighs all the risks which are definitely very real and often tragic.

Posted by: Swammi in Solon at August 19, 2004 09:57 AM

My sister was a preemie, too, so, yeah, probably good for them to do what they can.

Sadly, I think, as you point out in a roundabout way, that doctors have forgotten their oaths. If you'll recall, I posted a couple of times about the movement among doctors to decide not to treat plaintiffs' personal injury lawyers. Deciding to cut a class of people out of your practice, whom you would otherwise treat, is just unethical. I think a lot of doctors have forgotten why they became doctors, or never even knew in the first place. Of course, a lot of lawyers are like that, too. However, there is, at least, a rather strident attempt within the legal profession to regulate ethical conduct and professionalism. Sounds like the medical profession could use some of that, too.

Posted by: Geoff Brown at August 19, 2004 10:23 AM


Having known you for 20 odd years, I can assure you that you are most certainly some form of a lucky charm. Considering the adversity you've faced on so many levels, I'm amazed your spirit is as strong as it is. I can only conclude that you will live to be 107; in short, you'll outlive the bastards.

Saving a life is as important as anything medical science can achieve, and to accept anything less than a Herculean effort on the part of the medical profession would be shameful. In turn, I also think it is shameful that some 44 million Americans, who live in the richest and best country on Earth, are without health insurance. How many of those are children, who by no acts of their own, suffer just as greatly? If we are talking moral responsibility, this is just as deep a hole we MUST climb out of.

Posted by: simon from jersey at August 19, 2004 11:18 AM

Do you even know what the hippocratic oath says? It says first do no harm. And by putting little babies through misery who have slim to no chance of survival is doing harm. True, there are some miraculous success stories, but you don't hear about the failures.

Furthermore, you argue that everything should be done to save a sick baby's life. Consider these facts: It costs tens of thousands of dollars to treat one preemie with slim to no chance of survival. It would only cost about $100 to immunize third world children against terrible diseases from which hundreds of thousands die every year. Therefore, if you are most concerned about saving as many sick babies as possible, we should reallocate our resources to treat the neglected treateable babies. With ten thousand dollars we could try to save one baby, or we could definitely save hundreds. Now who's standing on the moral higher ground?

You speak so harshly against someone you don't know and who you only heard a few chopped quotes from, and you take it upon yourself to personally attack this doctor. In other words, quit the pretentious high and mighty talk.

It all comes down to the availability of resources, and the fact is that in many (but not all) of the times, resources can be better used to save more people.

Posted by: Ben at August 25, 2004 07:17 PM

See, the ones that pull through can sing their miraculous luck and insist its wrong to consider death for someo of these preemies. However, dead men tell no tales, and the babies that were kept alive agonizingly for weeks only to succumb to death cannot speak here in defense of the doctors humanity in allowing dignified death.

Besides, if youre catholic, dont you believe that babies are innocent anyway and get into heaven? Kepple, if you died as a baby, you woudl be in paradise right now. Is that so bad?

And stop referring to yourself as "we" it makes you look like that big old ancient turtle in that movie "The Neverending Story".

Posted by: AK at September 2, 2004 12:31 PM