Monday, July 6, 2009

When can an unborn baby feel pain?

Using live-action ultrasound images, neonatologists and nurses have seen babies at 20 weeks gestation and earlier react physically to outside stimuli such as sound, light and touch. In fact, the sense of touch is so acute that even a single human hair drawn across an unborn child’s palm causes the baby to make a fist. Surgeons entering the womb to perform corrective procedures on tiny unborn children have seen those babies flinch, jerk and recoil from sharp objects and incisions.

When is the unborn child first capable of feeling pain? This question of fetal pain has become a hot topic in the abortion debate. According to Dr. Steven Calvin, a perinatologist at the University of Minnesota, "The neural pathways are present for pain to be experienced quite early by unborn babies." Dr. Calvin observes pain responses while performing surgery on unborn children in the womb. "When we poke a fetus at 12-14 weeks to clear a bladder infection, they move away," he explains.

Anatomical studies have documented that the body’s pain network—the spino-thalamic pathway—is established by 20 weeks gestation or earlier. An unborn child at 20 weeks gestation "is fully capable of experiencing pain. ... Without question, [abortion] is a dreadfully painful experience for any infant subjected to such a surgical procedure," says Dr. Robert J. White, a professor of neurosurgery at Case Western University. According to Dr. Paul Ranalli, a neurologist at the University of Toronto, "At 20 weeks, the fetal brain has the full complement of brain cells present in adulthood, ready and waiting to receive pain signals from the body, and their electrical activity can be recorded by standard electroencephalography (EEG)." Moreover, notes Ranalli, this is a "uniquely vulnerable time, since the pain system is fully established, yet the higher level pain-modifying system has barely begun to develop." As a result, unborn babies at 20 weeks gestation probably feel pain more intensely than adults!

Even abortion advocate Dr. David Birnbach, president of the Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology, testified before the U.S. Congress that "on occasion we need to administer anesthesia directly to the fetus, because even at these early gestational ages the fetus moves away from the pain of the stimulation."

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