“Lethal” Fetal Anomalies and Elective Cesarean

Hastings Center Report 45 (6):13-14 (2015)
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Abstract

Deborah is a thirty-three-year-old who presented to labor and delivery at thirty-seven weeks gestation with complaints of contractions. Upon arrival, she explained that her fetus, Nathan, had been diagnosed with a “lethal” condition by her primary obstetrician. At twenty-two weeks gestation, an amniocentesis confirmed trisomy 13, a chromosomal abnormality leading to miscarriage or stillbirth in nearly one-half of affected pregnancies. During the admission process, Deborah voices the worry that due to Nathan's brain and heart structure, vaginal delivery could be traumatic and cause him to suffer. Deborah wishes for him to have as painless and as dignified a death as possible; cesarean section, she feels, will achieve this. Yet with her history of three prior vaginal deliveries, normally progressing labor, and poor fetal prognosis that is unlikely to improve with cesarean delivery, there is no maternal or fetal indication for a cesarean section. Should the obstetrician proceed with a cesarean delivery despite knowing that it would expose the mother to surgical risks with little or no corresponding fetal or neonatal benefit?

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