Thursday, July 21, 2005

Hospitals cannot intentionally allow newborns to die

The Wisconson Supreme Court ruled last week against a hospital that refused to treat a premature baby. According to an Alliance Defense Fund story,
The son of Shannon Preston, an indigent pregnant woman, was born prematurely at approximately 23 weeks and three days' gestation. Because hospital policy prevented the employees from providing treatment to any baby born prior to 24 weeks' gestation, hospital staff intentionally refused to treat the baby boy, named Bridon. Two and a half hours after his birth, Bridon died.... The court ruled that the hospital was in violation of federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), which provides that federally funded hospitals with emergency departments must examine and stabilize any patient who requests treatment.
Court's opinion available in HTML and PDF.

My opinion: Although I do think that hospitals should be able to set some guidelines for refusing to treat patients when it would be futile to do so, a 24-week cut-off seems arbitrary. I personally know a woman who has given birth to two 23-weekers, both of whom survived and are doing great, despite some minor medical issues. The World Health Organization, for example, places the lower limit of viability at 22 weeks and 500 grams, although there have been cases of babies surviving even earlier and smaller. I wonder if the outcome for the hospital would have been different had they adopted the lower standard. The Court's ruling doesn't seem to discuss the hospital policy specifically, though from the ADF article, I surmise it was addressed in the lower courts.

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