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Response to “Neonatal Viability in the 1990s: Held Hostage by Technology” by Jonathan Muraskas et al. and “Giving ‘Moral Distress’ a Voice: Ethical Concerns among Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Personnel” by Pam Hefferman and Steve Heilig (CQ Vol 8, No 2): Navigating Turbulent and Uncharted Waters

  • Thomas J. Simpson (a1)
    • Published online: 01 October 1999

Muraskas et al. and Hefferman and Heilig present the painfully elusive ethical questions regarding decisionmaking in the care of the extremely low birth weight (ELBW) infants in the intensive care nursery. At what gestation or size do we resuscitate? Can we stop resuscitation after we have started? How much money is too much to spend? Is the distress of the parents of the ELBW infant, the anguish of their caregivers, and the moral and ethical uncertainty of the approach to these infants too much to pay? Who speaks for the neonate: the parent, nurse, attorney, or physician? Ideally these questions should have been answered 30 years ago when modern neonatology embarked on a journey from where it could not return. A new breed of physician, called “neonatologist,” seduced by the high-tech lure and the promise of saving lives previously unsavable pioneered a lucrative and life-saving technological revolution in the care of premature newborns. This rapid advancement in neonatology occurred a few years after the death of a premature infant named Patrick Kennedy in 1963. While the country mourned, medical scientists vowed that this would not happen again. First continuous positive airway pressure, then mechanical ventilation, changed medical care of premature newborns forever. It began an era of euphoria and excitement. Neonatologists raced to push to the edge of newborn viability. What was the youngest salvageable gestational age? What was the smallest that could be saved? Yes, we dreamed, and still do dream of artificial placentas. Ethical questions took a back seat in the search for the edge because the waters were uncharted and the tough questions could not be answered without experience. What was to be the cost in dollars and in anguish to save the Patrick Kennedys of the world? Triumphs led to grave concerns as we approached the edge. However, no advancement in neonatology has ever changed the ultimate questions.

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Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
  • ISSN: 0963-1801
  • EISSN: 1469-2147
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-quarterly-of-healthcare-ethics
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