‘It’s Like Sticking A Knife In Your Foot’: Babies Exposed To Unnecessary Pain For The Sake Of Medical Studies, Not Treated By Doctors

infant pain study

Some medical professionals are raising concerns about the practice of “pain studies” in infants. It was revealed that babies are routinely inflicted with pain and then denied pain relievers during clinical trials in a bid to study new pain treatments. However, some are concerned that the clinical trials are unethical, as the babies are being exposed to unnecessary pain which can cause long-term developmental problems.

Reuters notes that a report from the Acta Paediatrica medical journal points to the potential emotional and developmental problems that can present in a baby due that has gone through clinical pain studies. The report reveals that nearly two-thirds of all pain studies performed on infants was done with placebos. The infant would be inflicted with pain or undergo a painful procedure, but would not receive pain treatments. Instead, the baby would be given a placebo and their pain response would be detailed.

The study indicates that while some trials are done on procedures that currently have no pain treatment options, such as nose suctioning, others are done on procedures where known pain relievers exists such as needle sticks. When pain treatment options are available, even if it is just breastfeeding or skin-to-skin contact, the researchers say it is unethical not to provide it to the hurting child. Therefore, the paper encourages parents to refuse to allow their child to participate in studies of this nature and is asking medical journals to refuse to publish studies of this nature.

“We are urging parents and ethics review boards to refuse studies that do not provide acceptable analgesia to all babies enrolled in studies, if such pain relief exists. In addition we are calling on medical journals to refuse to publish studies that deny pain relief to control infants undergoing painful procedures.”

The researchers say that this is unacceptable, as it has been determined that babies feel pain more strongly than adults and that exposure to unnecessary pain can cause developmental delays. The delays are seen most heavily in premature infants who are exposed to numerous painful procedures, but the researchers say it is relevant to the ethics of pain studies in any infant group. As an example, the researchers point out that though many of the studies involve heel pricks or needle pricks in infants, this would be the equivalent of “sticking a knife in your foot” and not being offered any pain killers. Baby feet are tiny and sensitive, so even the smallest needle will be large in comparison to the foot size.

“The stress of a single painful event can cause blood-saturation levels to drop, requiring a baby to be on oxygen. Even heel sticks are significant for patients whose heels are the size of an adult fingertip. It’s like sticking a knife in your foot.”

With known side effects to painful procedures, the researchers say that doctors are obligated to “first do no harm.” Therefore, the researchers are asking that clinical pain studies be performed in a manner that is ethical to the tiny patient.

According to the Calgary Herald, the paper goes on to remind researchers that it was not long ago that doctors and the medical community believed that infants could not feel pain. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1980s that a bombshell study proved without doubt that newborns could feel and experience pain just like their adult counterparts, if not more so. The ethical concerns presented by the paper has already made waves in the infant pain study community with numerous universities promising to no longer use placebos.

Wayne State University was one university that made the promise following controversy of a study they presented in 2015. The university says that following the ethical concerns, the university will no longer offer placebos in pain studies performed on infants.

What do you think of the idea of doctors and researchers knowingly inflicting pain on an infant and then denying them pain relief for the sake of a clinical study?

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