KEM hospital panel that ruled out abortion of foetus with neurological problems did not have subject specialist
Last Saturday, a 28-year-old woman gave birth to a boy with Arnold Chiari Syndrome Type-II — fluid accumulation in the brain and spinal deformities that leave him little chance of survival. She and her husband had moved the Supreme Court to be allowed to abort her pregnancy in the 27th week once they knew about the problems the foetus had, but the court had on March 27 turned down their plea based on the report of an expert team of doctors from Mumbai’s KEM hospital. The child is now in a critical condition at the KEM hospital where he was born. The law now prohibits abortion of foetus beyond 20th weeks, unless otherwise advised by a medical panel.
It now transpires that the expert panel did not have a neurologist on it though the foetus had a complex neurological condition. Chiari malformations cause structural defects in the cerebellum (part of the brain that regulates muscular activity) and children with Type-II re usually born with incomplete development of the spinal cord and its protective covering.
“There should be a neurologist on board while preparing reports on such cases because he will know the condition of the woman and foetus better. A neonatologist or general surgeon, based on hearsay evidence, cannot offer an accurate prognosis,” said a senior doctor from KEM Hospital who was involved in the case. The doctor spoke on condition of anonymity.
The KEM hospital dean, Dr Avinash Supe, said, “The law doesn’t permit us to advise the SC on whether the abortion should or shouldn’t be permitted. We can only analyse the medical condition of woman and foetus and offer a clinical suggestion on whether the child is ‘incompatible with life’.”
The committee had reported that if the mother was allowed to abort, the child might be born alive. “Complications could’ve been much worse then. Right now, they are at least clinically treatable,” Dr Supe added.
Dr Devi Shetty, founder and chairman of Narayana Health, who recently submitted a report based on which a woman from West Bengal was allowed to abort in the 27th week of pregnancy, told HT that an expert committee did not need doctors from specialities such as neurology or cardiology.
“If the foetus is diagnosed with any structural deformities, related to heart, brain or other vital organs which will limit its lifespan or the deformity itself is incurable, then the woman should be allowed to abort until week 26 or 27 of gestation. In today’s world, technology does the diagnosis and anyone with a post-graduate medical degree can be called upon as an expert by the courts,” said Dr Shetty.
The Mumbai woman underwent a scan at a civic-run maternity home in Borivli in the 15th week of her pregnancy, but the neurological malformation was not picked up then. The second scan was done in the 24th week, when doctors finally diagnosed the anomalies.The rate of survival is as weak as 1.2-2 per 1,000 births.
Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar had told the Supreme Court bench that as per the report of the medical board of KEM Hospital, the foetus has severe physical abnormalities but the doctors have advised against termination as the mother was in the 27th week of pregnancy.
Dr Nikhil Datar, gynaecologist and obstetrician who is a prime petitioner in the case before the Supreme Court seeking extension of the pregnancy termination limit to 24 weeks, blamed the civic-run clinic’s inability to detect the malformation in time for the couple’s present predicament.