Ethical considerations in the management of infants born at extremely low gestational age

Semin Perinatol. 2003 Dec;27(6):458-70. doi: 10.1053/j.semperi.2003.10.005.


With ongoing improvements in technology and the understanding of neonatal physiology, there has been increasing debate regarding the gestational age and birth weight limits of an infants' capability of sustaining life outside the womb and how this is to be determined. The objective of this review was to address this issue with an analysis of current data (following the introduction of surfactant therapy in 1990) from published studies of survival in extremely low gestational age infants. We found that survival was possible at 22 completed weeks of gestation but only in < 4% of live births reported. Survival increased from 21% at 23 weeks gestational age to 46% at 24 weeks gestational age. Historically, despite continual advances in neonatology, the mortality at 22 weeks has not improved over the past three decades. Combining the data from studies on survival with evidence from developmental biology, we believe that it is not worthwhile to pursue aggressive support of infants born at < 23 weeks gestational age. Given the complicated issues related to morbidity and mortality in infants born at 22 to 25 weeks gestational age and the ethical implications of the available evidence, we propose the need for a consensus derived framework to help in decision-making.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Gestational Age*
  • Humans
  • Infant Mortality
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / physiology*
  • Intensive Care, Neonatal
  • Parents
  • Prognosis
  • Resuscitation
  • Treatment Outcome