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Babies born 4 months early - in the 23rd week of pregnancy - exist on the very edge of life. For BBC Two, I secured unprecedented access to an intensive care neonatal unit to follow these babies as they struggle to survive.
The odds are stark: of every 100 that are born, only one will reach adulthood without a disability. Because of these statistics, the Dutch do not resuscitate these babies. And now NHS managers are wondering if the money could be better spent on other patients?
23weekbabies: The Price of Life tells the compelling story of the people whose everyday lives are affected by extreme prematurity. Claire was 23 weeks pregnant when her waters broke. She needs a Caesarian section but will her daughter, Holly, survive and should we as a nation be paying for her expensive treatment?
The ethics are complex, because the outcomes are so starkly varied. Heather was also born in extreme prematurity: now, aged twenty-one, she is quadriplegic with movement in one arm. She says, 'Is this as far my life can go. There is obviously nothing else out there for me. So what is the point really.' In contrast, ten-year old Molly is a healthy girl, every parents dream. Her father, a doctor, says, 'I think not to save life because some of them are disabled is a political statement of a euthanasia that isn't really acceptable in the mores of our society.'
I ask whether keeping these babies alive is medicine at its most pioneering and brilliant or is it science pushing the limits of nature too far.
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