The New York Times Magazine recently published an interesting article, First Ache, about fetal pain this weekend. Given the usual tone the paper takes, it was surprising to see a fairly thoughtful piece showcasing the research on fetal pain of the past few decades.
The main focus was the work of Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand, from his time in the neonatal intensive care over twenty-five years ago to his continuing research on the subject today. He realized that something was wrong all those years ago in the NICU when premature babies came back from surgery ashen and often in worse condition than when they went in.
In those days, anesthesia was not administered to babies that small, because the doctors were afraid of its negative effects and felt that they were unable to feel pain. Anand noted that premature babies as young as 21 weeks gestation grimaced and pulled away from needles during blood tests.
The article also covers observations from other doctors that babies appear to feel pain when being operated on in the womb via open fetal surgery. Many doctors are calling for the use of anesthesia for younger babies based on this research.
Sadly, one of the more shocking parts of the piece is that it is believed that while babies in the uterus feel pain, their central nervous system has not yet developed the reflex to dampen that pain. Essentially, pain that we, as adults and children, can tolerate is unbearable to an unborn or premature baby. Bearing that in mind, some doctors are considering administering pain medication to babies in complicated deliveries with the theory that forceps or vacuum-extraction might be extremely painful.
This is a great piece on fetal pain, but it does give credence to a few rabidly liberal doctors who want nothing more than to dehumanize these babies. I definitely recommend reading it; just make sure to be thoughtful when doing so.