LONDON, U.K., September 13, 2011 ( – As science continues to shed light on the secret life of the unborn child, a U.K. study has found that babies appear to distinguish painful stimuli as different from general touch from around 35-37 weeks gestation – just before an infant would normally be born.

“We are asking a fundamental question about human development in this study – when do babies start to distinguish between sensations?” said Dr Lorenzo Fabrizi, from University College London, who led the study, A Shift in Sensory Processing that Enables the Developing Human Brain to Discriminate Touch from Pain, which was recently published in the journal Current Biology.

The scientists looked at the brain activity of 46 babies at the University College Hospital Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Wing. Twenty-one babies in the study were born prematurely, giving scientists the opportunity to measure activity at different stages of human brain development, from babies at just 28 weeks of development through to those born ‘full term’ at 37 weeks.


Using electroencephalography (EEG), the scientists measured the babies’ electrical brain activity when they were undergoing a routine heel lance – a standard procedure essential to collect blood samples for clinical use.

In the premature babies the EEG recorded a response to the heel lance of non-specific ‘neuronal bursts’ – general bursts of electrical activity in the brain. After 35-37 weeks the babies’ response changed to localized activity in specific areas of the brain, which the researchers said indicated that they were now perceiving painful stimulation as separate to touch.

“Of course, babies cannot tell us how they feel, so it is impossible to know what babies actually experience. We cannot say that before this change in brain activity they don’t feel pain,” said Dr Fabrizi.

In fact, previous research has found that unborn children can feel pain as early as 20 weeks, which has led to a spate of legislation in the United States aimed at curtailing abortion after 20 weeks based upon the evidence of fetal pain.

One such bill, the “Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act,” would require abortionists to ensure that mothers seeking an abortion are “fully informed” regarding the pain “experienced” by their unborn child during the abortion procedure.

This bill is on its ninth submission and is currently being championed by Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska. The bill is cosponsored by 18 other senators.

Other bills that have been passed in several states have banned abortion past 20 weeks except in extreme circumstances, based upon fetal pain.

“Medical research has taken a quantum leap forward in recognizing that unborn children feel pain. It is time to acknowledge this reality in law and in practice,” said Sen. Mike Johanns in a press release after he introduced the federal bill to Congress in September 2010.

“This is not a pro-life or pro-abortion issue; it is an issue of human compassion. My legislation simply says mothers have a right to be informed and to show compassion by requesting pain medicine for their babies if they do not choose life. States are leading the way by passing similar legislation and we, as a civilized nation, should do the same.”

The average gestational period of a baby in the womb is 280 days, or 40 weeks. Abortion is allowed in Canada and the USA throughout all nine months of pregnancy.


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