Can a embryo or fetus feel pain?
Statements by physicians and researchers
1984: Statement by a group of physicians:
In a speech by then President Ronald Reagan to National Religious Broadcasters in 1984-JAN, he said "When the lives of the unborn are snuffed out, they
often feel pain, pain that is long and agonizing." 1
1996: Statement by an "All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group" in England:
A group of pro-life advocates from various political parties in England issued a statement on "Foetal Sentience" in 1996. They concluded:
There is a general consensus that pain sensors are present in a embryo. However, this statement seems to imply that the embryonic brain is capable of "appreciating" pain. That is also a remarkable statement to make.
1997: Statement by Professor Robert White:
Dr. Robert White, director of the Division of Neurosurgery and Brain Research Laboratory at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, gave testimony before the House Constitution Subcommittee of Congress. He stated that the fetus at 20 weeks gestation:
1997: Statement by Dr. Paul Ranalli:
Dr. Ranalli is a neurologist at the University of Toronto, in Toronto Canada. He is acting president of the de Veber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research. He gave a presentation called "Pain, Fetal Development, and Partial-birth abortion" on 1997-JUN-27 to the House Judiciary Committee of the State of Ohio. 3,4 He has concluded that the "spino-thalamic" system is fully developed at about 12 to 14 weeks of gestation. This is the system that conveys pain signals from pain receptors throughout the body to the thalamus. He apparently believes that the thalamus can feel pain, even if a connection between it and the cortex is missing.
To support his belief that a fetus in the second trimester can feel pain, he cites three signs:
2000: Commission of Inquiry into Fetal Sentience:
The House of Lords in Britain conducted an inquiry into "fetal sentience." 6 One part of the study dealt with the ability of a fetus to feel pain. Conventional wisdom among researchers is that the brain's cortex is the only location where pain can be felt. However, they mention recent evidence that if an adult suffers from an injury or disease which causes the cortex to function poorly, that some sensation may be felt from an area lower in the brain. They speculate that a fetus may be able to sense some "form of pain sensation or suffering" before the cortex is linked to the lower levels of the brain. They note that babies who are born with a major brain defect can sometimes feel pain. This includes babies born with hydranencephaly in which "the cerebral hemispheres are substantially or entirely absent at birth" and anencephaly, in which "the cerebral hemispheres and the top of the skull may be absent."
2000: Statement by Vivette Glover:
Professor Glover of Queen Charlotte and Chelsea hospitals in London, UK, believes that there is a possibility that a fetus aged 18 weeks can feel pain. On 2000-AUG, she recommended that late pregnancy terminations be done under anesthetic. She suspects that the fetus would not respond to sensations in the same way as newborns. It is unlikely to produce the feelings of anxiety that people have. 8
2001: Statement by a panel of experts in the UK:
The issue of fetal pain was addressed by a working group appointed by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in the United Kingdom. The panel consisted of experts in fetal development, law and bioethics. Dr. Anne McLaren headed the group. She commented:
The group determined that pain can only be felt by a fetus after nerve
connections became established between two parts of its brain: the cortex and
the thalamus. This happens about 26 weeks from conception. Professor Maria
Fitzgerald of University College London, author of the working group's report,
says that "little sensory input" reaches the brain of the developing
fetus before 26 weeks. "Therefore reactions to noxious stimuli cannot be
interpreted as feeling or perceiving pain." 8
Recent statistics show that of the 177,225 abortions performed in Britain during a recent year, only 92 (0.05%) occurred after 24 weeks.
2001: Statement by the Medical Research Council at Edinburgh University, UK:
According to Fox News for 2001-AUG-31, the Council's study revealed that "a fetus was absolutely aware of pain by 24 weeks."
2004: Testimony by Kanwaljeet S. Anand:
Congress passed a law which criminalizes most D&X abortions (a.k.a. Partial Birth Abortions). Three temporary injunctions were obtained by pro-choice groups to prevent the law from being applied. U.S. District Judge Richard Casey ruled on 2004-MAR-19 that the testimony of Kanwaljeet S. Anandwould would be allowed when the constitutionality of the law is examined in New York, NY. Simultaneous trials on the constitutionality of the law also started in San Francisco, CA, and Omaha, NE on MAR-22. Dr. Anandwould is a pediatrician who specializes in the care of newborns and children. He has conducted research over the past two decades to study whether a fetus can sense of pain by a fetus. He concludes that a fetus at 20 weeks of gestation may be able to feel pain.
The law states that a partial-birth abortion is a "brutal and inhumane procedure" and that "during the partial-birth abortion procedure, the child will fully experience the pain associated with piercing his or her skull and sucking out his or her brain." 10
2005: AMA study:
During 2005-SEP, a meta-study -- a review of existing medical studies -- into fetal pain -- was conducted by six medical personnel and reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Medical News Today reported:
A firestorm of criticism came from pro-life groups who claimed that the review of existing reports was biased. One of its six authors is the medical director of the abortion clinic at San Francisco General Hospital. The lead author, who is a medical student and lawyer, once did legal work for NARAL, an abortion-rights group, for eight months.
JAMA Editor-in-Chief, Catherine DeAngelis, is a Roman Catholic who opposes abortion. She said that she had received dozens of "horrible, vindictive" e-mails condemning her for publishing the review.
Alan Leff, a University of Chicago pulmonologist and editor of the Proceedings of the American Thoracic Society, said,
2005-DEC: Statement by Dr. Mark Rosen:
Dr. Mark Rosen is an obstetrical anesthesiologist at the University of California at San Francisco. In an interview on Discover magazine, he said that:
Discover magazine reports:
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