The value of a human life should never be predicated on whether or not that human being has the capacity to feel pain. Unfortunately, in the debate over abortion, many abortion supporters argue that preborn children don’t feel pain until 24 weeks, and possibly even later — which, to them, means that there should be no real moral qualms with ending those lives (or any lives, for that matter) in the womb.
As previously reported by Live Action News, Maureen Condic, Ph.D., at the time an associate professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah, testified before Congress in April 2017 that “the overall organization of the [embryonic] nervous system is established by four weeks” and the “neural circuitry responsible for the most primitive response to pain, the spinal reflex, is in place by eight weeks of development.” (emphasis added)
Now, two researchers seem to be reinforcing Condic’s statements, revealing that children in the womb may actually feel pain far, far earlier than commonly thought. What’s more surprising is that one researcher who once claimed this was not the case has changed his tune.
“The consensus is no longer tenable”
According to the UK’s Daily Mail, British professor Stuart Derbyshire — an abortion supporter who was once a consultant for Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocacy groups — claimed in 2006 that there was “good evidence that fetuses cannot experience pain.” Today, while he still supports abortion, he believes — along with his American co-researcher, John C. Bockmann (who apparently does not share Derbyshire’s pro-abortion position) — that several studies call into question the current 24-week pain ‘consensus.’
The authors write in their study, published in the BMJ Journal of Medical Ethics:
… We argue that abortions before 13 weeks’ gestation do not involve any meaningful likelihood of pain for the fetus….
Arguably, there never was a consensus that fetal pain is not possible before 24 weeks. Many papers discussing fetal pain have speculated a lower limit for fetal pain under 20 weeks’ gestation We note in passing that vote counting and consensus is perhaps not the best way to decide scientific disputes. Regardless of whether there ever was a consensus, however, it is now clear that the consensus is no longer tenable….
[C]urrent neuroscientific evidence undermines the necessity of the cortex for pain experience. Even if the cortex is deemed necessary for pain experience, there is now good evidence that thalamic projections into the subplate, which emerge around 12 weeks’ gestation, are functional and equivalent to thalamocortical projections that emerge around 24 weeks’ gestation. Thus, current neuroscientific evidence supports the possibility of fetal pain before the “consensus” cut-off of 24 weeks.
“The fetus experiences something… after 12 weeks gestation”
The authors argue that the current definition of pain used by researchers “restricts pain almost exclusively to fairly mature human beings.” This isn’t workable, they say. “To ease that restriction it might be worthwhile to consider a less sophisticated definition, which focuses less on subjective reflection (knowing that I am in pain) and more on the immediate and unreflective feel of pain (being in pain).” It is the latter, they claim, that children in the womb experience.
“When we experience pain, we experience ourselves as the bearer of pain with the knowledge that we are in pain, an experience encompassing memory, understanding, and so on. The pain is inescapably about something that is more than any immediate and bounded experience,” they write. But the preborn child “experiences a pain that just is and it is because it is, there is no further comprehension of the experience, only an immediate apprehension. The fetus experiences something that is inherent to a certain level of biological activity, and which emerges at an unknown time often speculated to be after 12 weeks’ gestation….”
They add, “Overall, the evidence, and a balanced reading of that evidence, points towards an immediate and unreflective pain experience mediated by the developing function of the nervous system from as early as 12 weeks.”
Then, astonishingly, they add, “We may doubt whether the fetus (or an animal) ever feels anything akin to pain, but acting as if we have certainty flirts with a moral recklessness that we are motivated to avoid.” (emphasis added)
The authors also admit that while doctors and surgeons striving to help children in the womb typically administer anesthesia to prevent pain, those committing abortions do not, because “surgeons performing abortions have their focus on the pregnant woman as their patient.” In other words, it is obvious that abortionists don’t consider the pain capability of the preborn child when the goal is to kill and remove the child.
While this study is encouraging, its authors don’t go far enough. Unfortunately, the researchers come down on the side of promoting pain relief for babies prior to killing them by abortion, instead of the obvious solution: we shouldn’t kill them at all.
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