In 1973, the point of viability – the ability to keep a baby alive outside the womb – was about 28 weeks. Most infants at this age weigh slightly over two pounds.
Today, viability is 22-24 weeks gestation. The average weight of these babies is approximately 15.17 ounces at 22 weeks, 1.10 pounds at 23 weeks, and 1.32 pounds at 24 weeks.
Babies have survived even earlier.
It’s rare but not unheard of that some infants have survived at 21 weeks.
A website has been documenting the births of very premature babies from around the world. Titled, The Tiniest Babies, it is sponsored by the University of Iowa Health Care and the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
The records date back to 1936, with the most recent entry from 2021. The information has been provided by lay media and medical journals. Or it has been submitted directly by a patient or family member with verification from the health provider.
It is well established that the gestational age is more important than the infant’s weight when making a prognosis for survival. The registry supports this analysis. There were three babies born at 21 weeks who survived to go home from the hospital, compared with 26 babies born at 22 weeks. The youngest was born at 21 weeks 2 days.
The lowest weight of the babies was 212 grams, or 7.48 ounces which is less than a half-pound (.47). This baby was 24 weeks 6 days old when born.
Dr. Robin Pierucci, MD is a clinical neonatologist and medical director of a 50-bed neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). If you want to read an eye-opening piece regarding the unique challenges of caring for very premature babies, Dr. Pierucci has written a layman-level article on the topic.
At these early stages of development Dr. Pierucci has observed something that many of us are oblivious to. “I have witnessed that our personalities are present far earlier than many are aware. Even when born at a time when the internal physiology is more fetal than not, many premature babies arrive with an intact attitude.”
Think about that for a moment, just over halfway through pregnancy babies can cop an attitude!
In this context, the Bible passage of Psalm 139:13-15 really comes to life. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place…”
Just how early did our personalities come to life? At this time, only our Creator knows.
The US Supreme Court’s past obsession with viability when making sweeping life-or-death decisions has been disproven by the progression of science. Viability should never have been a determining point. Viability is only a measurement of man’s ability to sustain life outside the womb, not a pronouncement of humanity.
As the window to the womb opens wider and wider, allowing more and more people to peer in, the prevailing consensus is that these are babies, and they need to be protected.
Saving the little ones,