Treating Fetal Pain: Standard of Care for Some, But Not for All

October 1, 2019
Edition: Fall 2019
Volume: 34
Issue: 2
Article: 3

Table of Contents


Fetal pain is a hot topic of debate, but not amongst the neonatologists who daily treat premature babies. The uncontroversial medical standard of care for this population’s treatment includes avoiding, minimizing, or intentionally treating pain, and this standard has evolved due to the data of multiple lines of research.  While it is true that unsettled debate over how to best define “pain” continues, this debate does not change the fact that premature babies’ outcomes are better when what seems to be painful stimuli is removed or treated.  Thus there is an uncomfortable paradox between the current standard of care for neonatologists, and what remains legal for obstetricians to do to the same patient.  While this article is not an all-inclusive literature review, it is a brief presentation of the information that informs current neonatal practice but does not equally inform national law.

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About the Authors

Affiliation: Neonatologist, Southwest Michigan Neonatology, P.C., Bronson Methodist Hospital, Kalamazoo, MI; M.D., Rush Medical College, Rush University, Chicago, 1994; M.A., Bioethics, Medical College of Wisconsin, 2000.