The Nuffield Council on Bioethics today launched a consultation on the ethical issues surrounding the prolonging of life in fetuses and the newborn.

Modern medicine can now sustain the life of extremely premature or critically ill babies who in the past would not have survived birth. Many such babies do well but it is difficult to predict which babies will thrive and how their lives and those of their families will develop. This uncertainty raises difficulties for parents and doctors when making decisions about treatment. The Council established a Working Party in October 2004 to consider the ethical, social, legal and economic issues involved, and now welcomes wider comments on these and related issues.

“We know that for many people, and especially those with first hand experience, this is an upsetting subject. Nevertheless, we would like to encourage responses from both individuals and organisations,” said the Chair of the Working Party, Professor Margaret Brazier of the Manchester University School of Law. “By listening to what people have to say, the Working Party will gain a better insight into these highly sensitive issues. This will enable us to develop advice for policy makers and help parents and healthcare professionals to consider all the issues before making a decision.”

A Consultation Paper provides background information on clinical practice, recent medical advances, professional guidance and the current legal framework, as well as highlighting the ethical, social and economic issues to be considered. The period of consultation will last for three months, closing on 9th June 2005. All comments received will be considered by the Working Party, which includes philosophers, scientists, doctors and representatives from patient groups. The Council plans to publish their report towards the end of 2006.

For further information contact:

Catherine Joynson
Communications & External Affairs Manager
Nuffield Council on Bioethics
28 Bedford Square
London WC1B 3JS
Tel: +44 (0)20 7681 9619
Fax: +44 (0)20 7637 1712

Notes to editors

1. Advance copies of the Consultation Paper are available to media representatives on request. It will be available to download from the Council website at from 10.00 am on Thursday 10th March. Responses can be submitted on-line. For a printed copy please e-mail:

2. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is an independent body which examines ethical issues raised by developments in medicine and biology. Established in 1991, it is funded by The Nuffield Foundation, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

3. Membership of Working Party

Professor Margaret Brazier OBE (Chair)
Professor of Law, University of Manchester

Professor David Archard
Professor of Philosophy & Public Policy, Institute of Environment, Philosophy & Public Policy, Furness College, University of Lancaster

Professor Alastair Campbell
Emeritus Professor of Ethics in Medicine, Centre for Ethics in Medicine, University of Bristol

Professor Linda Franck
Professor & Chair, Children’s Nursing Research Centre for Nursing and Allied Health Professions Research, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Institute of Child Health

Ms Bonnie Green
Head of Professional and Public Affairs, BLISS – the premature baby charity

Professor Erica Haimes
Executive Director, Policy, Ethics & Life Sciences Research Institute Bioscience Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne

Dr Monica Konrad
Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge

Professor Neil Marlow
Professor of Neonatal Medicine, School of Human Development, Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham

Professor Catherine Peckham (Deputy Chair of the Council)
Professor of Paediatric Epidemiology, Institute of Child Health, University College London

Dr Stavros Petrou
Health Economist, National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, Oxford

Professor Charles Rodeck
Head of Department, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University College London

Dr Philippa Russell CBE
Policy Adviser for Disability and Disability Rights Commissioner, National Children’s Bureau, London

Ms Anne Winyard
Partner, Leigh, Day & Company, Solicitors, London

Professor Andrew Whitelaw
Professor of Neonatal Medicine, University of Bristol Medical School, Bristol

4. Terms of reference

1 To identify and consider ethical, social, economic and legal issues arising from recent developments in fetal and neonatal medicine relating to prolonging life.

2 To examine scientific and medical research in these fields, considering in particular:
a. diagnostics;
b. fetal surgery;
c. neonatal care (including resuscitation);
d. recent evidence on the capacity of fetuses and the newborn to experience pain and suffering.

3 To examine current medical practices in these fields and their outcomes in the UK and more widely. In particular to review:
a. implications arising from the possibility of survival of premature babies of increasing frailty and at lower ages;
b. the relationship between changing survival rates and longer term outcomes

4 To consider issues raised by advances in research and practice, particularly:
a. arguments about the moral and legal status of fetuses beyond the first trimester and the newborn;
b. the ethical and legal basis for providing, withdrawing or withholding life-prolonging treatment;
c. the process of decision-making, including the relative roles of families and healthcare professionals;
d. the availability of support for families in the short and the long term;
e. resource implications for providers of healthcare, education and social care;

5 In light of the above, to make recommendations to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.