“So babies don’t remember pain?”

During the past week, the photos from my Flickr (a photo blogsite) Contacts have included dozens which are part of a current US campaign to challenge the continuing practice of routine male circumcision in that country.  I fully support that action!

Both male and female circumcision are acts of physical abuse.  I cannot understand what kind of faith and/or cultural heritage would require that parents deprive their own child of the freedom to have an unharmed and complete body.  And just as important, what parent has the right and feel it necessary to pay a doctor to inflict great and totally unnecessary pain on their child?

The medical profession has probably always had a few of its own deep secrets, and it seems that circumcising parents share in one of those secrets: Hey, babies don’t feel pain, and if they do, they don’t remember it.  Or don’t new parents want to know the facts?

There are several YouTube videos that show very powerfully how male babies react to being circumcised.  In one of them a father who had not asked the obvious or had accepted his doctor’s bland assurances is utterly horrified when his baby son screams and tries to writhe in agony during the procedure.

While it seems that most males circumcised as infants indeed don’t consciously remember the operation, some do, and many more are affected in later years by their body’s pre-verbal memory.  Research and personal accounts bear this out.  Several of the Blogroll links to the right relate to this, and a Google search on tags such as infant surgery and without anesthesia will find access to much more material.

What is surely even more horrifying for most of us than circumcising babies without anesthesia is the fact that much of the medical profession has for many decades performed all kinds on infant surgery without general anesthesia.  Babies undergoing chest and abdominal surgery and other intrusive procedures were commonly paralysed and sometimes given local anesthetic or merely alcohol-laced sugar cubes to suck.  When death followed these operations it was all-too-often caused by surgical shock.  Again, there are personal accounts of this trauma and tragedy on the web, and we must remember that at the time when the USA became concerned about infant surgery without pain mangement (about 1986) the internet was just starting its rise, and that traumatised parents had no way of reporting their horror beyond their kin.

It was not until 1986 that the mantra that babies don’t feel or remember pain started to be challenged by new research and open rejection by medical leaders in the USA.  The work of Drs K J S Anand and David B Chamberlain was especially influential in this break-through: google for their key articles!

Although the medical world is well-networked, the situation in Great Britain, Europe and countries like Australia seems to have been more varied than the USA.  Articles about infant conditions and surgery in the 1930s and 40s written in medical journal available on the web are my only available source of information, and they usually don’t mention anesthesia and pain control.  The few that do differ in their attitude: some dismiss the need for anesthetising babies, some warn against the very real risks of anesthetising babies in more rudimentary times and circumstances, and some seem to have felt a need to report on the favourable outcome of their using ether.

I have posted here about the possible effects of infant surgery trauma on pre-verbal or body memory and for more detail on this please open the Blogroll links to the posts of Dr Louis Tinnin and Wendy P Williams.

Whilst I cannot remember my pyloric stenosis surgery as a baby, 90% of Dr Tinnin’s list of the symptoms of infant trauma apply to me, and I strongly suspect that my life-saving surgery was done in the belief that nothing of it would affect me physically or emotionally.  I have written about this too.

Australia has recently been outraged by TV images of its export cattle being slaughtered after great cruelty and without being stunned first.  How even more important it is that we object to any infant surgery that is unnecessary and/or is done without general anesthesia, and that those who have been affected by this raise the level of general awareness of the possible consequences.

2 thoughts on ““So babies don’t remember pain?”

  1. wendy williams

    What an important post! I’m so glad you are championing the right of a baby to “have an unharmed and complete body.” Thank you for bringing up this topic. I think a lot of parents just don’t know what they are getting into when they say yes to circumsizing their child. Why bring, as you state, “unnecessary pain” on a child?

  2. Fred Vanderbom Post author

    Here’s hoping for success for our efforts to raise the awareness of unnecessary infant “procedures” and of the long-term effects of life-saving surgery when done without adequate pain management and parent involvement and training.


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