With exclusive access to a national study, Panorama looks at the phenomenon of the 'miracle baby' and speaks to the families of children who were born before 26 weeks.
Guardian - October 4
"If the law seems clear, then public thinking on life and death gets murkier. Last month's Panorama programme, based on a tracking study, showed disturbing outcomes for babies born before 26 weeks. Of the 1,200 infants delivered alive in the UK and Ireland between March and December 1995, 314 survived to go home. Of those, 40 per cent had moderate to severe problems with cognitive development at six years of age.
"That leaves out of account the 60 per cent of survivors who are effectively perfect, and the parents who would have made no other choice, however disabled their child. But it also crushes the myth of marvels. Modern medicine can keep babies alive at increasingly young ages, but it cannot guarantee their health. This imbalance has been glossed over for too long by a society primed to think that death is always the worst result."
Minette Marrin, Sunday Times - October 3
"Two weeks ago, by coincidence, Panorama broadcast a sobering programme about extremely premature babies. It discussed the biggest study ever conducted worldwide, which followed babies born in Britain in 1995 at less than 26 weeks' gestation -three months prematurely, like Charlotte.
I could not help crying when I saw the tape. The rate of disability is horrifying. Of the 811 babies given intensive neonatal care in the study, only 300 went home; of those, only three children were without any disability at all. One per cent.
...This programme confirmed all my worst suspicions about what was done to these "miracle" babies. It is experimentation; a doctor in the film admitted that in 1995 they really did not have a clue about disability rates at all. Yet they proceeded with these horrifying, intrusive, painful treatments with their unknown but terrible outcomes. It was only recently that they agreed that these babies feel pain."
Western Mail - September 25
"A leading Welsh consultant who has cared for thousands of premature babies wants society to debate the ethical life and death decisions posed by miracle babies. Dr Mark Drayton, a neonatologist at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, says there needs to be more guidance for consultants caring for babies born so early that there is a 60% chance they will survive without any major health problems or a 40% chance they will suffer either moderate or major learning difficulties.
...Until relatively recently, most of these children would have died soon after birth, but advances in neonatal care over the past 20 years mean that more are surviving and he hoped this week's BBC Panorama programme would spark further debate on the issue."
Richard and Judy, The Express - September 25
"This week's Panorama programme looked into unique research about the truth behind "Miracle Babies" - so called by newspapers after they have survived very premature birth.
It revealed, frighteningly, that of the few who survive birth at under 26 weeks, 40 per cent later go on to have moderate to severe learning difficulties, while a quarter have serious disabilities. That means that only 35 per cent of the 300 or so babies who survive birth and intensive care (less than half of the very early babies who are born alive) are without handicap.
...So ingrained in us is the "miracle baby" syndrome that I suspect every pregnant woman breathes a sigh of relief as she reaches the 24-week goalpost at which a baby becomes officially "viable". I know I did. When I was carrying twins, I was warned that many children who have serious handicaps are the second twin to be born. This is due not just to premature birth but also lack of oxygen during the delivery itself. I was scared stiff.
Perhaps it is time that we all reacquainted ourselves with the fact that very early birth is fraught with hazard. That way we can then look at and deal with the facts, instead of being bathed in a rosy glow of sentimentality about a "miracle baby".
By the end of the programme I was thanking God for my good fortune in having four healthy children. And I am now more certain than ever that there is more to life and happiness than getting A grades at A level and going to university."
Times - September 23
"Sarah Barclay's powerful, moving film, Miracle Baby Grows Up: A Panorama Special (BBC One), traced the work of neonatologists who not only bend over backwards to save the lives of babies born sometimes as young as 23 or 24 weeks gestation, but who do so while itchy with doubts. They worry if they are even doing the right thing by rescuing the life of someone who (if they survive at all) is likely to end up with severe disabilities: cerebral palsy, perhaps, or arrested development. It's as close as medicine gets to a modern-day judgment of Solomon."
The Sun, what to watch - September 22
"Panorama -Miracle Baby Grows Up. This documentary touches on the tragic subject of extremely premature babies and asks whether their lives should be saved when their chances of survival are slim. A tricky subject that makes for interesting viewing."
Guardian - September 22
"Millions of pounds are spent every year trying to save the lives of premature babies born just over the half- way point of pregnancy. But, until recently, little has been documented on the children's lives once they leave hospital. Panorama has been tracking extremely premature babies born in 1995 to see how they are growing up, and the results are both distressing and thought-provoking. The chances of a child having physical and/or learning difficulties are depressingly high, and although one girl born at only 23 weeks turned out not to have any problems, statistics show that she is the exception."
The Times - September 22
"The headlines talk of "miracle babies" born at a gestation age of between 22 and 25 weeks. But what happens to these babies when they leave intensive care? An extensive study was carried out in the UK that followed up on every premature baby born in 1995 at less than 26 weeks. The statistics are not cheering. Of the 131 babies born at 23 weeks, only 25 are still alive and 14 of those are disabled. This agonising Panorama examines whether it is right -for both the baby and the family -to provide intensive care as a matter of course."
Daily Mail - September 22
"Premature babies are often considered the true miracles of modern science. But a new report has revealed that a disturbingly high number of these babies have developmental problems which may not show up immediately. Forty per cent of very premature babies have significant learning difficulties, half have some physical disability at the age of two and ten per cent will have cerebral palsy, according to the major new research.
The Epicure study of 1,200 babies who were born at under 26 weeks in Britain and Ireland in 1995 is sending shockwaves around the medical community as it begs the question of whether it is worth continuing to help such young babies to survive. Some experts believe that taking home a baby with severe disabilities is an ' outcome worse than death' while others argue that there are 'some absolutely wonderful outcomes'. So what is it like to cope with a premature baby - and is the struggle worthwhile?"
The Herald- September 22
"Every journalist, at some point or other in their career, has been sent out to do a sugar-bag-baby story. These were, as we wrote them, invariably up-beat tales of life triumphing against the odds. When the parents of premature babies brought their precious, tiny child home from hospital, after months spent on guard over an incubator, they were proud, relieved, scared, emotionally exhausted: drained by the effort of willing life into that beloved, wizened scrap inside the giant Babygro.
How could we, as writers, do anything other than tell these moving stories as happy-ever-after? The under-weight baby, still small enough to fit on the palm of a hand, had come home; they had defeated the odds; God was in his heaven; everything would be all right. Courage would conquer all.
Except it couldn't. Except that the stories didn't stop there, and they weren't always happy-ever-after. The miracle babies were not always miracles; they were sometimes only partial miracles. Sometimes they were very cruel miracles. Rarely did any journalist follow the lives of these desperately premature children as they became toddlers and then headed for primary school; never did we record the years of worry and strain their parents endured, nor the lasting damage some of the babies were left with.
A new study, to be revealed on BBC1's Panorama tomorrow night, shows the downside of life for babies born when their mothers were less than 26 weeks pregnant. The figures are agonising: statistics from an ethical front line."