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Management of the neonate at the limits of viability

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The active treatment of fetuses or neonates at the limits of viability is an ongoing debate for perinatal physicians. Although initiating intensive care at 26 weeks is generally accepted, the gray zone of gestational ages at which aggressive perinatal care should be offered is less clear and ranges from 22 to 25 weeks. The gray zone has remained rather unchanged over the last decade. Attitudes vary among different countries, centres and individuals. The benefit–burden ratio of neonatal intensive care is balanced differently according to competing moral values. Several factors underlie the difficulty in approaches to management decisions. Neonates lack the capacity to make decisions and most parents ignore the complexity of care during and after hospitalisation. Parents have to be informed about the survival rates and the risks of long term disabilities, but accuracy for each individual baby is very weak. Outcome data are published many years after the intensive care period, and results about the prevalence of severe disabilities over time are conflicting and vary widely (ranging from 10% to 60%). Information about more subtle disabilities which only become apparent around school age is scarce. Data on the impact of the longer term outcomes of new strategies like developmental care approaches (Neonatal Individual Developmental Care Assessment Programme: NIDCAP) are still insufficient but could prove to be an important recent step in improving outcome in extremely immature babies.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2005-03-01

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