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This article is part of the supplement: Global report on preterm birth & stillbirth: the foundation for innovative solutions and improved outcomes

Open Access Review

Global report on preterm birth and stillbirth (6 of 7): ethical considerations

Maureen Kelley1*, Craig E Rubens23 and the GAPPS Review Group

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pediatrics, Bioethics Division, University of Washington School of Medicine and Treuman Katz Center for Pediatric Bioethics, Seattle Children's Hospital, Seattle, Washington, USA

2 Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth, an initiative of Seattle Children's, Seattle, Washington, USA

3 Department of Pediatrics at University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, Washington, USA

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2010, 10(Suppl 1):S6  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-10-S1-S6

Published: 23 February 2010

Abstract

Introduction

Despite the substantial global burden of preterm and stillbirth, little attention has been given to the ethical considerations related to research and interventions in the global context. Ethical dilemmas surrounding reproductive decisions and the care of preterm newborns impact the delivery of interventions, and are not well understood in low-resource settings. Issues such as how to address the moral and cultural attitudes surrounding stillbirths, have cross-cutting implications for global visibility of the disease burden. This analysis identifies ethical issues impacting definitions, discovery, development, and delivery of effective interventions to decrease the global burden of preterm birth and stillbirth.

Methods

This review is based on a comprehensive literature review; an ethical analysis of other articles within this global report; and discussions with GAPPS's Scientific Advisory Council, team of international investigators, and a community of international experts on maternal, newborn, and child health and bioethics from the 2009 International Conference on Prematurity and Stillbirth. The literature review includes articles in PubMed, Academic Search Complete (EBSCO), and Philosopher's Index with a range of 1995-2008.

Results

Advancements in discovery science relating to preterm birth and stillbirth require careful consideration in the design and use of repositories containing maternal specimens and data. Equally important is the need to improve clinical translation from basic science research to delivery of interventions, and to ensure global needs inform discovery science agenda-setting. Ethical issues in the development of interventions include a need to balance immediate versus long-term impacts—such as caring for preterm newborns rather than preventing preterm births. The delivery of interventions must address: women's health disparities as determinants of preterm birth and stillbirth; improving measurements of impact on equity in coverage; balancing maternal and newborn outcomes in choosing interventions; and understanding the personal and cross-cultural experiences of preterm birth and stillbirth among women, families and communities.

Conclusion

Efforts to improve visibility, funding, research and the successful delivery of interventions for preterm birth and stillbirth face a number of ethical concerns. Thoughtful input from those in health policy, bioethics and international research ethics helped shape an interdisciplinary global action agenda to prevent preterm birth and stillbirth.