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2 days away from being human

A young mother watched her baby son die in her arms after doctors refused to help because he was born two days too soon and therefore ‘just a foetus’.

In October of 2008 Sarah Capewell gave birth to Jayden after 21 weeks and five days of pregnancy. But doctors refused her desperate pleas to place him in intensive care because medical guidelines state that under 22 weeks a baby is a foetus and does not qualify for intensive care treatment.

Doctors refused to even see Jayden, who lived without support for almost two hours before passing away. Midwives had told her “We just have to get you to 22 weeks”, but because the pregnancy was only 21 weeks and 5 days Miss Capewell was not given drugs to delay the labour or help mature her baby’s lungs. Doctors at in Norfolk told her she should consider the labour as a miscarriage rather than a birth.

When Miss Capewell pleaded with a paediatrician “You have got to help”, he replied “No we don’t”. Begging doctors to consider her son’s human right to life, Miss Capewell says she was told: “He hasn’t got a human right, he is a foetus” and so he was refused admission to the special care baby unit.

Sarah Capewell has now launched a campaign to change the national guidelines for NHS hospitals which state that babies born before 22 weeks have such a low chance of survival that no attempt should be made to save them.

Although there are many difficulties with premature babies, it seems that a key factor here is not how much effort we make to save, but how we really regard them. If we regard them as human, we will try everything. The sobering thing about this case is the unwavering attitude of the doctors to stick by a paper rule, rather than to care for the person in front of them.

One wonders how much the protracted debate in the UK over abortion and the consequent need to define at what stage a baby is viable, or even human, has had on the thinking of doctors, medical staff and even the population at large.

Life seems to have become a commodity to be traded, or a burden to be weighed, or something evaluated against ‘quality of life’. Instead we need to see life at whatever end of the age spectrum as a gift from God, and all human beings as made in his image. And we need to see life as not finishing when it ends here.