An article in the Journal of Medical Ethics argues there’s a good possibility that fetal human beings can feel pain earlier than the previously accepted 24 weeks. The Daily Mail reports from the UK:
Unborn babies may be able to feel pain before reaching 24 weeks, say scientists – meaning they could suffer as they are being aborted.
Until now, the consensus of medical opinion has been that foetuses cannot feel pain before 24 weeks’ gestation, after which abortion is illegal in Britain except in special cases.
But two medical researchers, including a ‘pro-choice’ British pain expert who used to think there was no chance foetuses could feel pain that early, say recent studies strongly suggest the assumption is incorrect.
The studies indicate unborn babies might be able to feel ‘something like pain’ as early as 13 weeks, they say.
Women going for abortions who have reached this stage of pregnancy should be told the foetus could experience pain while being terminated, they argue. And medical staff should ask if the woman wants it to be given pain relief.
To carry on regardless of new evidence ‘flirts with moral recklessness’, they write in the influential Journal of Medical Ethics.
Here’s the most surprising part:
The lead author of the controversial article is British professor Stuart Derbyshire, who has acted as a consultant to the Pro-Choice Forum in the UK and Planned Parenthood, a leading American pro-choice organisation.
In 2006, he wrote in the British Medical Journal that avoiding talking to women seeking abortions about foetal pain was ‘sound policy based on good evidence that foetuses cannot experience pain’.
The fact that a man who has “acted as a consultant” for pro-choice organizations (and who previously argued that fetal human beings younger than 24 weeks can’t experience pain) has come to these new conclusions gives weight to his arguments. They can’t be dismissed by pro-choicers as mere “pro-life propaganda.”
Of course, the ability to feel pain is not a magical thing that turns a human body into a valuable human “person” such that pain determines the point at which killing should be illegal. Human beings are human beings at every level of development, whether they currently have the ability to feel pain or not, and the lack of ability to feel pain doesn’t justify killing them. So this changes nothing in terms of pro-life arguments for the unborn’s right to life. But it’s also the case that a pregnant woman who knows her unborn child feels pain might reflect just a bit longer on the living human being inside her and on what abortion is and does, and it could save lives. And if this information leads to Britain lowering the age limit on abortion, then all the better.
Let us hope it’s not the case that the only thing this new information about fetal pain accomplishes is a policy of giving unborn children painkillers before they are violently killed.