Is race a factor in deciding whether to resuscitate a baby?

In a very bold and emotionally charged headline, a Newspaper reports:  Quote:

Māori babies less likely to be resuscitated, bias blamed.

Babies close to death are less likely to get life saving treatment if they’re Māori, Pacific or Indian – and experts partly blame racial bias.

A Weekend Herald investigation can reveal the ethnic divide in resuscitation attempts on very premature infants.

A top-level health body is now calling for all maternity and neonatal workers in New Zealand to be put through compulsory anti-racism training.

The number of infants born near the “edge of viability” – 23 to 26 weeks – is small at about 170 a year. However, 10 years of records reveal a disturbing ethnic divide.

Resuscitation was tried on 92 per cent of Māori babies, 89 per cent of Pacific and 86 per cent of Indian.

That compared to 95 per cent for “other” – mostly Pākehā and non-Indian Asians – which medical experts say is a statistically significant difference.

Institutional bias or implicit biases are likely to play at least some part,” concluded the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee, a taxpayer-funded panel tasked with reviewing deaths of babies and mothers.  End of quote.

Likely to play at least some part.  So what they are really saying is there is no hard evidence at all to support this claim, only assumptions and guesses.

What nationality are the doctors that are making the resuscitation decisions?  Are they all white?  Based on the mix of doctors I’ve seen in hospitals, that’s extremely unlikely. Is it racist for a Maori doctor to decide that a Maori baby should not be resuscitated?

What do the doctors have to say?  Quote:

Dr John Tait, chairman of the mortality review committee and chief medical officer at Capital & Coast DHB, said no baby would not be resuscitated because of the colour of its skin.

Rather, bias could be found earlier in the chain of events leading up to the birth, and help explain why more Māori, Pacific and Indian women have babies whose condition, such as low birth weight, makes resuscitation less viable.

“Is enough effort going into Māori and Pasifika health to prevent them going into labour early? If people don’t come to antenatal clinics…should we be going to them?”  End of quote.

Perhaps, but at what point should we expect parents to take responsibility for the life they have chosen to bring into the world?  There’s an old saying, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink.

Should we be interested only in the resuscitation statistics or are there other things to consider?  Quote:

[…] DHBs told the Weekend Herald it wasn’t fair to compare survival statistics, which aren’t adjusted for factors like poverty or the proportion of mothers who arrive with birth imminent.

Dr John Tait of the mortality review committee agreed, and said the picture was complex, much more so than simply attempting resuscitation.  End of quote.

I’m sure there will be many people involved in the health industry that will be deeply offended by this baseless accusation of racism.

Doctors are scientists and make life and death decisions based on the medical evidence that they have in front of them.  To suggest anything different without hard evidence is shameful.

 


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