PHOENIX — Rejecting concerns of doctors, a House panel voted 6-3 along party lines to require them to do everything possible to keep severely premature babies alive no matter the chances of survival.
Sponsor Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said state and federal law already require doctors to provide care to live-born babies. His measure would require state health officials to come up with rules of what doctors must do to keep alive any baby born after 20 weeks of gestation.
Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy, cited a case of an abortion that resulted in a live birth but the baby was allowed to die.
But Dr. Peter Stevenson, a neonatologist, said there is zero chance of survival of a baby born before 22 weeks.
At 22 weeks, he said, there is an 11 percent chance of survival under “optimal” conditions, including the delivery at a Level 3 trauma center. And about a third of those children will suffer severe complications.
Only at 23 weeks does the chance of survival reach 40 percent.
“This bill would compel us to perform painful treatments that have no possible benefit to this baby or fetus,” Stevenson told members of the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, argued that already is required by law.
Stevenson countered that existing law does not require doctors to provide care that is considered “futile.” And he said for a baby born at 20 or 21 weeks “all therapy other than comfort care is futile.”
Dr. Hugh Miller, a specialist in high-risk pregnancies, said part of the problem is that SB 1367 adds something not in existing law: evidence of what is considered “life.”
Specifically, it includes breathing, a heartbeat, umbilical cord pulsation or “definite movement of voluntary muscles.” And it need be only one of those to trigger the requirement, with doctors who do not comply subject to civil lawsuit.
Miller said there are babies born long before viability that can show one or more signs.
“The fact that there are these signs of life does not mean ... that any medical intervention will be successful in sustaining that life,” he told lawmakers. “What we can do is we can tragically instrument those kids (through intubation) and deprive those families of the last few moments of meaningful contact and nurturing with the very loved one that we want them to spend those last moments with.”
Farnsworth said that scenario doesn’t work in situations where a woman doesn’t want the child in the first place and actively sought to abort the fetus.
The measure has already been approved by the Senate, albeit in a slightly different fashion, and it now goes to the full House.