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J Paediatr Child Health. 2011 Sep;47(9):585-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1754.2011.02157.x.

Improved neonatal survival and outcomes at borderline viability brings increasing ethical dilemmas.

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  • 1Neonatal Services, the Royal Women's Hospital, Parkville, Australia.


With improvements in neonatal intensive care over the past five decades, the limits of viability have reduced to around 24 weeks' gestation. While increasing survival has been the predominant driver leading to lowering the gestation at which care can be provided, these infants remain at significant risk of adverse long-term outcomes including neuro-developmental disability. Decisions about commencing and continuing intensive care are determined in partnership with parents, considering the best interests of the baby and the family. Occasionally, clinicians and parents come to an impasse regarding institution or continuation of intensive care. Inevitably, these ethical dilemmas need to consider the uncertainty of the long-term prognosis and challenges surrounding providing or withdrawing active treatment. Further reduction in the gestational age considered for institution of intensive care will need to be guided by short- and long-term outcomes, community expectations and the availability of sufficient resources to care for these infants in the neonatal intensive care unit and beyond.

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