July 1, 2022

Memories of a Kennedy reignite neonatal care debate

On August 9, 1963, the son of John F. Kennedy passed away.

On August 9, 1963, the son of John F. Kennedy passed away. Patrick Kennedy was born prematurely, with a common and often fatal condition, Infant Respiratory Distress Syndrome. Neonatal care in the 1960s was primitive and doctors were unable to provide adequate treatment for Patrick. After a desperate attempt by doctors to raise his oxygen levels in a hyperbaric chamber Patrick passed away – just 36 hours after birth.

The 50th anniversary has provided opportunity for reflection on the ethics of neonatal care.  Writing for the New York Times, paediatric specialist April Dworetz discussed the morality of providing extraordinary care for premature babies with serious illnesses: “I’ve been thinking about that question for decades and haven’t found a simple answer… Some families soar in caring for their disabled kids; others disintegrate.”

With advances in neonatal technology, the survival rate of premature babies has increased dramatically: If Patrick Kennedy were born today, he would have a 95% chance of surviving. 

Xavier Symons
Creative commons
neonatal care
premature babies