Letter: Baby `experiments'
Tuesday 23 February 1999
Sir: I am horrified at the way in which the work of Dr David Southall has been dismissed in the media ("Investigation ordered after 28 babies die in hospital experiment", 18 February).
Headlines concentrating on 28 babies who have died out of 122 treated by the negative pressure tank (iron lung) method could have read, just as meaningfully, as "94 babies saved from certain death". A similar number died from conventional treatment in the control group. Babies born very prematurely live their first few weeks on the margin, under constant threat from infection or other complications.
If we pursue witch-hunts instead of knowledge we will all suffer, as my son did for the first six months of his life at the hands of "conventional treatment", until Dr Southall put him in a negative pressure tank and gave him a whole night's rest and sleep for the first time and so gave him the rest of his life.
Having gone through the pain of seeing my baby "intubated" and "oxygenated" with lungs controlled by machines, I ask just how much more barbaric can conventional treatment be. The feet and hands are cut several times a day for tests and lines inserted into limbs and the head, along with a range of other excruciating procedures.
No wonder parents of premature children are terrified and bemused by consultants. At the time of Dr Southall's trials, proponents of conventional techniques generally refused even to give painkillers to the babies. The line given to parents was that premature babies did not feel pain. No wonder Dr Southall came across so differently to parents, as he spent his life searching and testing alternatives that might cause the parent and child so much less grief.
Doctors who strive for improvements to relieve pain and suffering should not be pilloried. Experimentation is the only way we will learn for future generations.
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