Study From British Doctors Claims, Despite Evidence, Unborn Children Can’t Feel Pain
by Steven Ertelt
June 25, 2010
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — A new study put out by a British group of doctors makes the false claim that unborn children don’t have the ability to feel pain before birth. The new research published by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says an unborn baby can’t feel pain until the later parts of pregnancy, at about 24 weeks.
The new study claims the nerve connections to the brain are not fully developed to the point at which babies before birth have the ability to feel pain.
While claiming fetal pain doesn’t begin until late in pregnancy, the doctors also suggest that, after 24 weeks into the pregnancy, sunburn children are in a state of "continuous sleep-like unconsciousness or sedation."
Dr. Steven Zielinski, an internal medicine physician from Oregon, is one of the leading researchers into the concept of fetal pain and published the first reports in the 1980s to validate research show evidence for it.
He has testified before Congress that an unborn child could feel pain at "eight-and-a-half weeks and possibly earlier" and that a baby before birth "under the right circumstances, is capable of crying."
Dr. Vincent J. Collins, Zielinski and attorney Thomas J. Marzen were the top researchers to point to fetal pain decades ago. Collins, before his death, was Professor of Anesthesiology at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois and author of Principles of Anesthesiology, one of the leading medical texts on the control of pain.
"The functioning neurological structures necessary to suffer pain are developed early in a child’s development in the womb," they wrote.
"Functioning neurological structures necessary for pain sensation are in place as early as 8 weeks, but certainly by 13 1/2 weeks of gestation. Sensory nerves, including nociceptors, reach the skin of the fetus before the 9th week of gestation. The first detectable brain activity occurs in the thalamus between the 8th and 10th weeks. The movement of electrical impulses through the neural fibers and spinal column takes place between 8 and 9 weeks gestation. By 13 1/2 weeks, the entire sensory nervous system functions as a whole in all parts of the body," they continued.
With Zielinski and his colleagues the first to provide the scientific basis for the concept of fetal pain, Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand of the University of Arkansas Medical Center has provided further research to substantiate their work.
He has said he and other specialists in development of unborn children have shown that babies feel pain before birth as early as 20 weeks into the pregnancy.
Anand said many medical studies conclude that unborn babies are "very likely" to be "extremely sensitive to pain during the gestation of 20 to 30 weeks."
"This is based on multiple lines of evidence," Dr. Anand said. "Not just the lack of descending inhibitory fibers, but also the number of receptors in the skin, the level of expression of various chemicals, neurotransmitters, receptors, and things like that."
Anand explained that later-term abortion procedures, such as a partial-birth abortion "would be likely to cause severe pain."
Dr. Jean Wright, an anesthesiologist specializing in Pediatric Critical Care Medicine, has also confirmed the existence of fetal pain during Congressional testimony.
"[A]n unborn fetus after 20 weeks of gestation, has all the prerequisite anatomy, physiology, hormones, neurotransmitters, and electrical current to close the loop and create the conditions needed to perceive pain. In a fashion similar to explaining the electrical wiring to a new house, we would explain that the circuit is complete from skin to brain and back," she said.
And Dr. Richard T.F. Schmidt, past President of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, confirms, "It can be clearly demonstrated that fetuses seek to evade certain stimuli in a manner which an infant or an adult would be interpreted as a reaction to pain."
Meanwhile, a British study published in April 2006 also confirms the fetal pain.
Published in the Journal of Neuroscience by a team from University College London, the study analyzed brain scans taken on premature babies when blood was being drawn from them.
The results found that babies as young as 24 weeks after pregnancy can feel pain and the researchers hope the study will prompt new pain treatment methods.
The concept of fetal pain has been used to promote pro-life legislation designed to help women understand the development of their unborn child and find better alternatives to abortion.
In Nebraska, lawmakers approved the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act by a large, bipartisan vote that bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the well-established concept of fetal pain.
National Right to Life attorney Mary Spaulding Balch told LifeNews.com earlier this year that the bill could make its way to the Supreme Court to alter national abortion law further and set a wide-ranging precedent.
"Although it will be a case of first impression, there are strong grounds to believe that five members of the current U.S. Supreme Court would give serious consideration to Nebraskas assertion of a compelling state interest in preserving the life of an unborn child whom substantial medical evidence indicates is capable of feeling pain during an abortion," she said.
"By 20 weeks after fertilization, unborn children have pain receptors throughout their body, and nerves link these to the brain," she told LifeNews.com. "These unborn children recoil from painful stimulation, which also dramatically increases their release of stress hormones. Doctors performing fetal surgery at and after 20 weeks now routinely use fetal anesthesia."
The pro-life attorney rebutted the response from pro-abortion groups that unborn children cannot feel pain until later in pregnancy when nerves reach the cerebral cortex.
"Since 2007, medical research, triggered by the identification of consciousness in children lacking a cortex from birth, has indicated that nerve connection to the cortex is not essential to experience pain. In fact, informed specialists have concluded that the subcortical plate, to which nerves from the pain receptors are linking at 20 weeks, fulfills that function," she explained.
A first of its kind in the United States, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act prohibits abortion after 20 weeks gestation except when the mother "has a condition which so complicates her medical condition as to necessitate the abortion of her pregnancy to avert death or to avert serious risk of substantial or irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function or…it is necessary to preserve the life of an unborn child."
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