by Steven Ertelt
April 5, 2006
London, England (LifeNews.com) — A new British study finds that premature babies experience pain and don’t merely exhibit reflexive actions in response to painful events. The study’s results could have a ramification on the abortion debate as late-term abortions are done during the same time period when viable babies are born.
The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience by a team from University College London, analyzed brain scans taken on premature babies when blood was being drawn from them.
The results found that babies as young as 24 weeks after pregnancy can feel pain and the researchers hope the study will prompt new pain treatment methods.
"This is the first time we have actually measured pain activity in the human brain," lead researcher Professor Maria Fitzgerald said.
"Beforehand, although we could assume it, we did not know for sure that these babies could feel pain," Fitzgerald explained. "These babies’ brains are so immature that it was difficult to genuinely know that the pain was going to their brain."
In the study, researchers scanned the brains of 18 babies born anywhere from 25 to 45 weeks after conception. The scans were performed before, during, and after nurses drew blood from their heels.
The scans found an increase in blood flow and oxygen to the brain indicating the babies felt the pain.
The results of the study could have implications for the abortion debate.
Pro-life groups have been pressing for legislation in Congress and state legislatures that would require abortion practitioners to tell women who are late in pregnancy and considering an abortion that their baby will feel intense pain during the abortion.
The British study backs up research conducted by Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand of the University of Arkansas Medical Center who said he and other specialists have found that babies feel pain before birth as early as 20 weeks into the pregnancy.
Anand has said other medical studies conclude that unborn babies are "very likely" to be "extremely sensitive to pain during the gestation of 20 to 30 weeks."
"Now that we have this scientific, objective measure of pain, we’ll be able to assess pain-relieving therapies much more precisely," Fitzgerald concluded about the study.
"It is certainly something we need to be aware of. It is another good reason for treating the pain and alleviating it at this very early stage when they are so vulnerable," he said.