A concerning new study suggests that decades of medical procedures performed on infants without pain management has had deeply traumatizing effects.
A groundbreaking study … demonstrates that the infant pain experience, despite long held assumptions to the contrary, closely resembles that of adults.
Researchers discovered that when 1-6 day old babies were exposed to the same pain stimulus as adults their brains “lit up” in almost exactly the same manner. More specifically, infant and adult pain responses were indistinguishable in 18 of the 20 regions observed through fMRI imaging. The only two brain regions that pain did not show activation in the infants were the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex: two regions believed to help with the interpretation of pain stimuli…
While not specifically mentioned in the study, the practice of male infant circumcision may constitute the most egregious example of a medically unnecessary procedure. It is arguably responsible for extensive psychological and emotional damage within the male psyche due to the unacknowledged pain and trauma it has exacted in the millions that have involuntarily undergone it without adequate pain management.
Indeed, male infant circumcision is 1 of 6 of the most commonly performed medical procedures and responsible for 1.108 million hospital stays in 2011. The United States has the highest circumcision rate in the world, with an estimated rate of 69-97%, followed by 70% in Australia, 48% in Canada, and 24% in the United Kingdom. This is all the more concerning considering that circumcision is one of the least medically justified interventions from the perspective of evidence-based medicine. Learn more by reading: “The Foreskin: Why Is It Such A Secret in North America?” Amazingly, it has only been less than two decades that the American Academic of Pediatrics recommended anesthesia be used during the procedure. This only happened after research emerged showing behavioral differences in infant and mother-infant dyad behaviors between anesthetized and unanesthetized infants…
Considering what has been revealed by the new study, we must ask: how many infants have had been deeply traumatized not only via partial dismemberment of an important component of their reproductive and eliminative anatomy, but through the pain and anxiety associated with such a medical ritual which lacks unequivocal clinical research support for safety, efficacy, and any of its purported health benefits?
We hope that research like this will raise a flag of extreme caution when it comes to the increasingly prevalent over-medicalization of our most vulnerable populations. In other words, the solution is not simply to increase conventional pain management strategies which have many unintended, adverse effects — even with seemingly more benign over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol, which was recently found to have psychotropic properties such as flattening affect. The focus, therefore, should be on reducing overdiagnosis, overtreatment, and the uncritical implementation of a standard of care which errs on the side of aggressive and invasive procedures.