Something must happen before first breath


Something must happen before first breath


Polese D; Fagioli M; Virgili F; Fiori Nastro P


BMC Medical Ethics




Infant; Newborn; Brain’s activation; Brain’s development; Extrauterine environment; First breath; Foetus; Human birth


BACKGROUND: Definition and concept of the 'beginning of human life' are weakened by co-existing contrasting hypotheses based on humanistic or religious beliefs rather than scientific foundations. This plethora of conceptually distant views have important common concerns in different fields of science and shape, in turn, several societal aspects including laws related, for instance, to inheritance eligibility or abortion, end-of-life care and euthanasia, and reproductive technology. Also, they are fundamental to evaluate opportunity for resuscitation vs. palliative care in extremely preterm infants. In this article, we address one of the most common tenets in medicine: the acceptance that human life starts with first breath, even though several events are well-documented to take place before its occurrence. MAIN TEXT: Several studies show how pivotal physiological events take place before first breath. Evidence of a number of neurological events occurring before first breath opens the way to the primacy of the Central Nervous System, given its immediate extra-uterine activation at birth. This activation eventually sets specific physiological conditions that allow the complex sequence of events determining the muscle activity associated with the influx of air in the lung and the settling of a continuous and successful extra-uterine respiration. We would like to invite the scientific community to endorse a clear-cut position against the paradigm of 'first breath' as the beginning of life. Herein, we also assume how, a still undefined, yet possibly specific quid in the external environment triggers further physiological response in newborns. Better understanding of the critical events that occur at the beginning of human life is likely to cause great concern and expectations in scientists, researchers and physicians working in the domain of brain, and its physiology, and mental health. CONCLUSIONS: The comparison between beliefs and evidence-based observations generates confusion, misperceptions and false expectations in society, hence, in the scientific and medical community. Different and more solid alternatives about the carachterization of the 'beginning of human life' are indeed available and require to be explored and defined.


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Citation List Month

July 2021 List



Polese D; Fagioli M; Virgili F; Fiori Nastro P, “Something must happen before first breath,” Pediatric Palliative Care Library, accessed April 23, 2024,