Viability: When?

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When is an unborn child "viable"? That is, at what age does an unborn child have some chance of surviving outside the womb?

This depends a great deal upon the state of medical knowledge and technology at a particular time and place. One hundred years ago, a child born at 30 weeks might have little chance of surviving. Today, 24 weeks is routinely quoted as the "age of viability".

I am not aware of any national statistics on how many premature babies of any given age manage to survive, but the following statistics are from a lecture by a doctor from the perinatal unit at a Dayton, Ohio hospital, for survival rates at that hospital.

Baby's Age
(weeks)
Survival Rate
23 16%
24 20%
25 49%
26 67%
27 90%
29 100%

23 weeks was the youngest child he knew to have survived at his hospital, though if one in six of these survive, it is likely that some percentage of yet younger children survive. There are some cases of children surviving born as young as 19 weeks.


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