Premature babies and preborn babies react similarly to pain

Colleen A Malloy, M.D., Assistant Professor, Division of Neonatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, testifying before the House of Representatives on May 17, 2012, regarding the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act:

24 week preborn

24 week preborn

“With the advancement of in utero imaging, blood sampling, and fetal surgery, we now have a much better understanding of life in the womb than we did at the time that Roe V Wade was handed down. Our generation is the beneficiary of new information which allows us to understand more thoroughly the existence and importance of fetal and neonatal pain. As noted in my biography, I am trained and board-certified in the field of neonatology. The standard of care in my field recognizes neonatal pain as an important entity to be acknowledged, measured and treated…

When we speak of infants at 22 weeks Last Menstrual Period, for example, [20 weeks old], we no longer have to rely solely on inferences or ultrasound imagery because such premature patients are kicking, moving, reacting and developing right before our eyes in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit….

The cutoff point in this legislation is 20 weeks after fertilization… In today’s medical arena, we resuscitate patients at this age and are able to witness their ex–utero growth…

As we provide care for all these survivors, we are able to witness their experiences with pain. In fact, standard care for neonatal care infants requires attention to and treatment of neonatal pain. There is no reason to believe that a born infant would feel pain any differently than that same infant were he or she still in utero. Thus the difference between fetal and neonatal pain is simply the locale in which the pain occurs. The receiver’s experience of the pain is the same. I could never imagine subjecting my tiny patients to horrific procedures such as those that involve limb detachment or cardiac injection.

At 23 weeks in utero, a fetus will respond to pain (intrahepatic needling, for example) with the same pain behaviors as older babies: screwing up the eyes, opening the mouth, clenching hands, withdrawal of limbs. In addition, stress hormones rise substantially with painful blood puncture, beginning at 18 weeks gestation. This hormonal response is the same one mounted by born infants.

Moreover, the fetus and neonate born prior to term have an even heightened sensation of pain compared to an infant more advanced in gestation. There is ample evidence to show that while the pain system develops in the first half of pregnancy, the pain modulating pathways do not develop until the second half. It is later in pregnancy that the descending, inhibitory neural pathways mature, which then allow for dampening of the pain experience.

The fetus may actually be more sensitive than the older child [to pain].”

Richard and Rhonda White Confronting Abortion Distortions (Xulon Press, 2013) 37 – 38

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About Sarah

Sarah is a member of the board of The Pro-life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians.
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