Friday, August 26, 2005

JAMA Reports Fetuses Cannot Feel Pain Before 29 Weeks

Opponents of legal abortion are not happy about a report published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association that concludes fetuses younger than 29 weeks probably cannot feel pain. This is a significant finding in the struggle to preserve a woman's right to choose an abortion because of the latest tactic in the pro-lifers' endless list of ways to prevent women from freely choosing to continue or end a pregnancy: forcing women seeking an abortion to sit through lectures about fetal pain, and requiring doctors to give women having abortions "fetal pain medication" to "anesthetize" the fetus.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco reviewed dozens of studies and medical reports and said the data indicate that fetuses likely are incapable of feeling pain until around the seventh month of pregnancy, when they are about 28 weeks old.
Based on the evidence, discussions of fetal pain for abortions performed before the end of the second trimester should not be mandatory, according to the study appearing in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

The review, researchers say, is an attempt to present a comprehensive, objective report on evidence to inform the debate over fetal pain laws aimed at making women think twice before getting abortions.

Critics angrily disputed the findings and claimed the report is biased.

"They have literally stuck their hands into a hornet's nest," said Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand, a fetal pain researcher at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, who believes fetuses as young as 20 weeks old feel pain. "This is going to inflame a lot of scientists who are very, very concerned and are far more knowledgeable in this area than the authors appear to be. This is not the last word _ definitely not."

Well, allow me to quibble. "They" have not " 'literally' " stuck their hands into a hornet's nest." They may have "figuratively stuck their hands into a hornet's nest" -- but there are no hornets involved here and no one has gotten stung.

Sorry, I just had to get that out of the way.

This guy sounds like he's more about strong emotion on the issue of abortion and not about rational argument based on supportable facts or evidence. Faith-based science, I guess.

There is actually federal legislation pending (which I did not know until I read this article) that would require doctors to give information about fetal pain to women seeking abortions after 20 weeks gestation, and to give such women "fetal pain relief" prior to performing an abortion if the fetus is 20 weeks or older.

The review says medical evidence shows that brain structures involved in feeling pain begin forming earlier but likely do not function until around the seventh month, when fetuses are about 28 weeks old.

Some scientists say younger fetuses show pain by moving away from a stimulus, but that likely is a reflex action and not an indication that they are actually feeling pain, said UCSF obstetric anesthesiologist Dr. Mark Rosen, the study's senior author.

Offering fetal pain relief in the fifth or sixth month, when brains are too immature to feel pain, is misguided and might result in unacceptable health risks to women, the authors said.

But this is not about a real desire to prevent fetuses from feeling pain. This is about a political and specifically religious agenda of preventing women from having abortions by any means necessary. Even if that means lying about fetal pain.

Sen. Sam Brownback, Republican from Kansas (where else! Kansas, the land where everything regressive and ignorant is to be found) is sponsoring the federal legislation, and he makes no bones about his willingness to manipulate and distort truth in order to achieve the objective of preventing a woman from terminating a pregnancy.

Brownback, often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2008, thinks discussing fetal pain is one way to curb abortions without making them illegal.

"I'm pro-life and if a woman decides not to abort her fetus with this information, that would certainly be fine by me," Brownback said.

The last word goes to JAMA's editor-in-chief, Dr. Catherine DeAngelis:

JAMA does not publish "politically motivated science. We publish data-based, evidence-based science," she said.

And if you are guessing that Dr. DeAngelis is pro-choice, guess again.

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