One would have thought that it is completely obvious that babies can feel pain. Of course, it can be argued that there’s a gap between behavioural evidence and pain states. Still, isn’t that worry really just a philosophical one, as one hears doctors say?
Unfortunately, common sense appears to have failed in the case of infants and pain.
In the early 1980’s it was revealed that babies react chemically as adults do to what adults count as painful circumstances. It also turned that neonates needing surgical interventions were given NO pain relief. “Well that is completely horrible but,” one might have thought, “At least that will end now.”
No such luck. Recent brain scanning experiments show that even very young babies do indeed react much as adults do to what adults count as painful circumstances, but pain relief is not the norm.
The brains of babies ‘light up’ in a very similar way to adults when exposed to the same painful stimulus, a pioneering brain scanning study has discovered. It suggests that babies experience pain much like adults. As recently as the 1980s it was common practice for babies to be given neuromuscular blocks but no pain relief medication during surgery. In 2014 a review of neonatal pain management practice in intensive care highlighted that although such infants experience an average of 11 painful procedures per day 60% of babies do not receive any kind of pain medication.
Sezgi Goksan, Caroline Hartley, Faith Emery, Naomi Cockrill, Ravi Poorun, Fiona Moultrie, Richard Rogers, Jon Campbell, Michael Sanders, Eleri Adams, Stuart Clare, Mark Jenkinson, Irene Tracey, Rebeccah Slater. fMRI reveals neural activity overlap between adult and infant pain. eLife, 2015; 4 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.06356)
The study comes out of the University of Oxford. I think it applies only to the UK. There has been an earler, 2011, study in Canada covering a wider age range and the results are similarly discouraging.