British Health Official: Leave Babies Born at 23 Weeks to Die

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 7, 2011   |   12:22PM   |   London, England

UPDATE: The London Daily Mail issued an email to and other media outlets on May 27th saying its original story incorrectly attributed the remarks to Austin. “We are in the process of settling a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission on behalf of Dr Daphne Austin as we made an error in attributing some of the quotes to Dr Austin.”

The Daily Mail also printed a retraction on its web site: “Statements contained in an article published on 7 March, headed “Babies who are born at 23 weeks should be left to die, says NHS chief”, were wrongly attributed to Dr Daphne Austin, who is a medical consultant specialist employed by the NHS.  They were made in a programme in which Dr Austin participated and were published by us in good faith.  In particular, Dr Austin did not state that babies should be “left to die” and did not express the opinion that the financial aspects of neonatal care were the issue.  We apologise to Dr Austin for the errors.”

An official of the British National Health Service, the governmental socialized medicine program, is drawing gasps from pro-life people worldwide over comments she made saying babies born at 23 weeks of pregnancy should be let to die.

Although unborn children born at that stage of pregnancy, or earlier, can survive, Dr. Daphne Austin said she believes too few babies survive if born prematurely at that point to justify the millions of dollars spent on their medical care.

Austin said, according to a London Daily Mail report, that helping babies survive at that point is only “prolonging their agony” and the money would be better spent to care for the disabled or others who have a better chance of surviving.

Austin, who advises local health care systems how to spend their budgets, claims doctors “doing more harm than good by resuscitating 23-weekers” with treatments that, in her estimation, have “very marginal benefit.” She opposes the £10 million NHS spends annually helping care for babies born very prematurely because statistics show only about 9 percent of the babies born at that time ever leave the hospital after the around the clock care they need.

She also complains that few of the babies who do survive are able to lead normal lives — as most of the infants born prematurely suffer from some sort of disability ranging from blindness to cerebral palsy.

“If it was my child, from all the evidence and information that I know, I would not resuscitate,” she said, according to the newspaper. “We are doing more harm than good by resuscitating 23-weekers. I can’t think of very many interventions that have such poor outcomes.”

“For me the big issue is that we’re spending an awful lot of money on treatments that have very marginal benefit,” she added. “I would prefer to free up that money to spend on providing support to people who have much more lifelong chronic conditions.”

She said the decisions about whether to fund care for premature infants should be similar to those that deny patients cancer drugs when someone determines their quality of life or potential medical benefit doesn’t justify them:  “In the same way as we’ve made hard decisions about things like cancer drugs, saying the outcomes just aren’t good enough and therefore we won’t use them.”

The comments Austin made come in a BBC2 documentary, “23 Week Babies: The Price of Life” that will air Wednesday evening on the British television station.

Official guidelines for doctors in the UK suggest doctors should not take extra measures to save babies under 22 weeks of pregnancy, but help those born between 22 and 25 weeks and provide them with treatment in the intensive care unit and whatever other medical care the infant’s parents desire. The legal limit for abortions in the UK is 24 weeks, though abortions can be done after that point for limited reasons.