Prenatal and neonatal neuroethics: The moral significance of painience

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Department of Humanities


The capacity of human neonates to experience pain has been established and recognized for decades. Controversy remains regarding fetal pain perception, with some maintaining the fetus is painient relatively early in its development and others holding that in utero fetuses are incapable of experiencing pain. Neuroscientific evidence for fetal painience is highly reliant on inferences, with relatively limited direct evidence from human fetuses, owing in part to restrictions on research on fetuses. In this chapter, I look at the evidence for fetal and neonatal painience and discuss the moral significance of painience for both human fetuses and neonates, as well as other patient populations and nonhuman animals. I’ll also look at the ethical, legal, and social issues, with an emphasis on the abortion debate.

Publisher's Statement

© 2018 Taylor & Francis. Publisher’s version of record:

Publication Title

The Routledge Handbook of Neuroethics