Fetal Pains and Fetal Brains

  • A.A. HowsepianEmail author
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 111)


There has been a groundswell of recent scholarship on the question of whether or when unborn humans become capable of feeling pain.1 (Anand and Hickey, 1987; Colette, 2003; Commission of Inquiry into Fetal Sentience, 1996; Derbyshire, 2006, 2008; Glover, 1999; Glover and Fisk, 1996; Kolenc, 2006; Lagercrantz and Changeux, 2009; Lee, Ralston and Drey et al., 2005; Lowery, Hardman and Manning et al., 2007; Mellor, Diesch, Gunn and Bennet, 2005; McCullagh, 1997; Myers, 2006; Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 2010; Saunders, 1997; Savell, 2007; Sonfield, 2005; Stahle, 2007; and Wenger, 2006, among others.) The reason for this rapidly growing literature is not difficult to discern: if unborn human beings are capable of feeling pain, this fact would have potentially enormous implications for how unborn humans ought to be treated, whether in the context of fetal surgery, embryonic and fetal experimentation,2 or induced abortion (hereafter, ‘abortion’). At least for the time being, the practical issues concerning fetal surgery and fetal experimentation have been largely settled. In the first instance, whether or not fetuses are capable of feeling pain while undergoing surgical procedures, not providing anesthesia during fetal surgery appears to have enough other untoward (stress-related and behavioral) effects on the fetus that anesthetizing human fetuses who are undergoing surgery (thanks, primarily, to the work of Anand, Sippel and Aynsley-Green, 1987) has quickly become the standard of care. In the second instance, potentially destructive research on unborn humans has, thus far, only seriously been entertained in very early human embryos that, everyone agrees (or at least everyone should agree), are too young to feel pain. The primary issue, therefore, currently controlling this discussion concerning fetal pain sentience is the issue of abortion. Because methods devised for killing unborn humans include some (e.g., ripping, scraping, burning, breaking, crushing, poisoning, and cutting) that might elicit pain in those beings on whom these methods of killing are employed, the question concerning whether or when human fetuses can feel pain has become a matter of significant clinical, ethical, and, more recently, legal urgency.3 (Collett, 2003; Stahle, 2007)


Pain Experience Pain Perception Noxious Stimulus Emotional Content Pain Sentience 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fresno Medical Education Program, Department of PsychiatryUniversity of CaliforniaSan Francisco, FresnoUSA

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