SBC Life Articles

Twisted Logic

In recent months, pro-choice researchers have begun to acknowledge that abortion may cause horrific pain for the infants exterminated by the procedure. Rather than call for an end to the practice, however, scientists suggest that the best solution is to perform abortions in the most painless manner possible. Dr. Vivette Glover, a researcher at the Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital in London and self-proclaimed abortion advocate, says that anesthesia should be given to comfort the fetus from the pain of abortions performed as early as seventeen weeks gestation. Dr. Glover explains that, while it is unlikely the fetus can feel anything prior to thirteen weeks, "after twenty-six weeks it is quite probable. But between seventeen and twenty-six [weeks] it is increasingly possible that it starts to feel something and that abortions done in that period ought to use anesthesia."

Dr. Glover's findings follow a 1997 report by Britain's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG) recommending anesthesia for all abortions performed from twenty-four weeks onward. The RCOG concluded that pain was possible from twenty-six weeks on, but moved its anaesthetic recommendation to twenty-four weeks because of the uncertainty of estimating gestational age. The RCOG additionally recommended an alternate technique to both maximize efficiency and minimize pain: inject potassium chloride directly into the heart of a fetus to insure a quick death.

Further examination reveals that these findings are not in isolation. A wave of fetal pain studies, while varying in their exact conclusions, seem to agree that an unborn child has the capacity to feel pain much earlier than one would expect. The September 2000 issue of the National Right to Life News reports that an independent analysis of 1997 RCOG findings suggests that the doctors may have mistakenly interpreted the data when they concluded that pain signals do not reach the brain until twenty-six weeks. Allowing some room for individual variability, the brain of an unborn child will begin to register pain impulses after just twenty weeks, with increasing pain reception reaching the brain between twenty and twenty-four weeks. Opening the possibility of pain perception at an even earlier age, Dr. Paul Ranalli, M.D. writes, "By every measure, the fetus from sixteen to nineteen weeks reacts to a painful stimulus in a manner consistent with the perception of pain."

In his book, The Facts of Life, Brian Clowes, Ph.D., tells that Dr. Vincent Collins of Northwestern University and the University of Illinois Medical Center, has found that a pre-born child's pain may be detected as early as eight weeks in gestation. In addition, Clowes examined the various medical studies on fetal pain and found that "there is no 'triggering process' that causes the fetal nervous system to start up at birth." Clowes also cited two past presidents of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology who stated that ultrasonography, fetoscopy, fetal EKG, and fetal EEG have found "remarkable" fetal responsiveness to pain, touch, and sound.

Challenging these findings, some have sharply criticized the notion that scientists can ever know whether a fetus is experiencing pain. They argue that there is, in fact, no direct method of assessing pain in any subject. However, the Commission of Inquiry into Fetal Sentience points out that conclusions about the experience of pain must be based on what is considered to be reasonable from the available evidence. And to that end Dr Ken Craig of the University of British Columbia says, "a fetus displays all of the physiological and behavioural [sic] reactions you observe in children and adults. My experience is that they do experience pain."

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