The Mum Network

How Can You Decide To Terminate a Baby at 32 Weeks Gestation?


Ok, this one is a tough one. A moral dilemma that no parent would ever have to go through so I’m going to try to tackle it with tact and respect despite the fact that this story makes me really, really, really uncomfortable.

There’s a story in the news today on news.com.au with the headline   A HEALTHY 32-week-old fetus was accidentally terminated in a botched procedure at the Royal Women’s Hospital.

Gulp. Here’s part of the story as reported on News.com.au:

A Victorian mother, pregnant with twin boys she had already named, had made the agonising decision to abort one of the babies on doctors’ advice.

She had been told that one twin had a congenital heart defect that would require years of operations, if he survived at all.

An ultrasound clinician had checked the healthy baby, who was in a separate sac to the sick baby, before the termination.

But just after 2.30pm on Tuesday the wrong baby was injected, terminating the healthy pregnancy.

The mother then had an emergency caesarean section and the sick child was terminated in a three-hour operation.

I can’t imagine the pain the parents are going through at the moment, nor the decision they had to make. It’s unfathomable to me and my deepest sympathy goes out to them, I actually feel a little unwell just thinking about it. How on earth can a hsopital screw that up? Big, huge, enormous questions need to be asked and answered.

Whilst I firmly respect the parents decision to do something they were legally allowed to do, there are a number of things here I’m not comfortable with and with the exception of starting an online biffo with pro-choice campaigners, I’m REALLY struggling with this.

Firstly, the headline and references made by medical staff referring to a 32 week old fetus. According to what I can find an unborn child is medically considered a fetus but have you ever heard a mother refer to her pregnancy as “I’m having a fetus” – nope, it’s a baby. Calling it a fetus doesn’t take away any of the emotion or reality that for 8 whole months, a mother was pregnant with not one, but two babies. It’s clinical and uncaring to call the babies fetuses.

Secondly, here’s a hit of reality, the picture below is of a baby in a mother’s tummy at three months. Yep 12 whole weeks after conception, the ‘fetus’ actually looks like a real baby. When I saw the first ultrasound of our first, I couldn’t believe how well developed the said ‘fetus’ was, from then, it became my baby.

Ultrasound of baby at 3 months gestation

The picture below is of a twins at 32 weeks gestation.

Twins at 32 weeks gestation

I’m in no position to lecture anyone on the moral dilema’s of terminating a pregnancy, everyone is entitled to an opinion and right to choose according to the law but I thought (and I could be wrong) that you could not terminate a pregnancy after 12 weeks? Perhaps 20 weeks if there were medical issues, am I wrong?

I have a number of friends and family who have given birth to babies with VERY serious congenital heart defects, a couple of them were told the same thing by Doctors “be aware, this may involve years of operations, pain and suffering for the child”. My friends and family understood the risks and implications and if I could post photos of these amazing children now, there is no sign of a serious congenital heart defect, at all. I really hope the parents had the right medical advice because from what we know of modern medicine these days, they can do amazing things for babies with heart problems.

What has also got me VERY confused is how a mother is legally allowed to terminate a pregnancy at 32 weeks whilst a mother who gives birth to a baby at 32 weeks and is classified a stillborn. That mother is legally required to record the birth with births, deaths and marriages. It’s completely odd and raises so many moral questions, I’m kind of scared to write about it. What would the parents actually put as the reason for the child’s termination on the birth certificate? If a baby is born at 32 weeks alive, it’s a baby, a live baby. Is it really not a life till it takes a breath despite being in the Mum’s tummy for 8 whole months?

The parents are going through enough pain without me ranting on about their decisions. If it were me, I would not have terminated the sick baby, the mere sound of it is excruciating isn’t it. It was a baby and deserved to live, even for a short time, to meet its family and possibly because of an epic bungle and legal loophole, a decision to terminate one life, has resulted in the termination of two.

Not coping at all with this.

4 comments

  1. EL

    My heart went out to this family when I read this story. Some years back at 20 weeks pregnant, my baby was diagnosed with a very rare congenital lung tumour. The prognosis was very bad and, at one stage, our greatest hope was fetal surgery in America. Failing that we would have had to have our little girl very early and try our luck with major lung surgery on a very premature baby. We were advised that you can have an abortion up to the 20 week mark (and we were at 19 weeks and 6 days and were given 24 hours to make our decision). Beyond that you need the approval of the Board of a tertiary care hosptial. In any event, I had felt my baby kicking for some time and, asides from my christian faith, there was simply no way I could go ahead with an abortion. I can’t conceive of being able to do it at 32 weeks but, having had an agonising 10 weeks of scans and uncertainty, I can say that it is an intensely personal decision. My situation had a happy ending and my baby’s tumour resolved and she was born without complications or the need for surgery at 40 weeks…which of course just goes to show that fetal science is not precise.

  2. OMG El, Incredible story, so happy for you and thank you for posting. It is a difficult position to be in and my heart goes out to you. I agree that it’s intensely personal and one that you can never assume to know what to do unless you were put in that situation. – The Mum Network

  3. Stu

    I have to say that before having kids I was very much a “whatever suits the mother and the baby” kind of guy in terms of choice. Once we were pregnant with our first baby though, I changed to a “for me, this little person is alive already”. I still respect other people’s choices and decisions as their own, for they are the ones who will need to live with the consequences of those decisions, and little people take a LOT of time and effort to raise, but my mind is very much made up when it comes to my kids.

    I can’t imagine the pain of the family above. It cannot have been an easy decision at all, and for it all to end so tragically I imagine they must be feeling even worse than they would have before – words just don’t cover it.

  4. dms

    Such a sad sad story and you write about it with sensitivity. I wonder if the doctor who gave the advise is the same one who performed the operation. Perhaps a case of incompetent on both or now three counts. I would be asking legal questions of the parties involved. Three at least, probably more, lives, devastated now. Too sad to say more.

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