SURGEONS in Paris are celebrating a first in France after successfully operating on an unborn baby to correct the birth defect, spina bifida.
The two-hour operation, on a five-month-old foetus in the womb, was carried out at the Hôpital Necker children's hospital in the French capital, with the mother under a general anaesthetic.
Doctors performed the surgery in July but details have only been made public today following the baby's birth by cesarean section.
Both the mother and child are said to be fine and will be allowed home later this week.
Only about a dozen hospitals in the world offer this type of surgery - mostly in the United States and Brazil. It comes with the risk of a premature birth within a few days of the operation.
France has been debating the move for several years, with this the first operation carried out in a French hospital.
Spina bifida is a congenital disorder diagnosed in about 800 pregnancies a year in France. Jean-Marie Jouannic, an expert in pre-natal diagnosis at a Paris hospital, told TF1: "The malformation can be detected by X-ray. Some people question whether there is a place for this sort of surgery in our country.
"The methods of diagnosis in France are among the best in the world and the vast majority of couples decide on an abortion when they find out.
"These days we are seeing demand from couples who want to benefit from this surgery. It would be unethical not to offer it to them as an option."