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Happy little baby, or just a reflex?

Happy little baby, or just a reflex?

Professor Stuart Campbell, the pioneer of 3D and 4D ultrasound, has shown pictures of a 17 week gestation baby who appears to be smiling for the camera. This is at least five weeks earlier than previously recorded. Professor Campbell states that this is a sign that foetuses can show human characteristics as early as 17 weeks. He cautions that “we cannot say that this is a foetus expressing emotion, but if you disturb a foetus at around 20 weeks, you can see it cry.” Professor of obstetrics and foetal medicine Eric Jauniaux of University College London said the smile showed the development of the muscles but was no reflection of emotion.

It is true that even after birth, babies do not usually smile immediately and many mothers will regard a sleeping baby as a contented one. There is however a serious side to this story. We cannot say for sure that any other human being born or unborn has the same emotions as ourselves as we cannot feel what they are feeling. It is surely better to be ‘safe than sorry’, and err towards feeling. In the same way, there is an ongoing debate over the stage at which babies can feel pain.