[Jill Stanek]

February 12, 2008
No brain, no pain?

by Mary Kay Hastings

From the New York Times, February 10:

... [W]hen Kanwaljeet Anand was a medical resident in a neonatal intensive care unit, his tiny patients, many of them preterm infants, were often wheeled out of the ward and into an operating room. He soon learned what to expect on their return. The babies came back in terrible shape: their skin was gray, their breathing shallow, their pulses weak.
That is when I discovered that the babies were not getting anesthesia, he recalled recently.

Doctors were convinced that newborns nervous systems were too immature to sense pain, and that the dangers of anesthesia exceeded any potential benefits.

In a series of clinical trials, Anand demonstrated that operations performed under minimal or no anesthesia produced a massive stress response in newborn babies, releasing a flood of fight-or-flight hormones like adrenaline and cortisol....

The fetus is not a little adult, Anand says, and we should not expect it to look or act like one. Rather, it is a singular being with a life of the senses that is different, but no less real, than our own.

If the notion that newborns are incapable of feeling pain was once widespread among doctors, a comparable assumption about fetuses was even more entrenched:

Nicholas Fisk
is a fetal-medicine specialist and director of the University of Queensland Center for Clinical Research in Australia, carried out a study that closely resembled Anands' pioneering research, using fetuses rather than newborns as his subjects. He selected 45 fetuses that required a potentially painful blood transfusion, giving one-third of them an injection of the potent painkiller fentanyl. As with Anands' experiments, the results were striking: in fetuses that received the analgesic, the production of stress hormones was halved, and the pattern of blood flow remained normal.

THE SAME MIGHT be said of the five children who were captured on video by a Swedish neuroscientist named Bjorn Merker on a trip to Disney World a few years ago:

The youngsters, ages 1 to 5, are shown smiling, laughing, fussing, crying; they appear alert and aware of what is going on around them. Yet each of these children was born essentially without a cerebral cortex. The condition is called hydranencephaly, in which the brain stem is preserved but the upper hemispheres are largely missing and replaced by fluid.


Merker (who has held positions at universities in Sweden and the United States but is currently unaffiliated) became interested in these children as the living embodiment of a scientific puzzle: where consciousness originates.

The tacit consensus concerning the cerebral cortex as the "organ of consciousness", Merker wrote, may have been reached prematurely, and may in fact be seriously in error .

I urge you to please read the rest of the article here.

posted at 11:47 AM | Comments (24)

October 15, 2007
Fetal pain: Brits discuss what we won't

16%20year%20old.jpgLondon's The Daily Mail, followed a 16-year-old (photo right) aborting her 16-week baby and told their story in, "What REALLY happens during an abortion: One surgeon finally tells the truth," October 12.

What a refreshingly honest article, which we are certainly unused to in the U.S. Part of it discussed fetal pain....

But in Britain... 200,000 abortions [were] carried out last year....

About 20,000 abortions a year are performed after 12 weeks - 10% of the total....

One of the most powerful pieces of anti-abortion propaganda ever produced was a 1984 film called The Silent Scream [see below], which purported to show the ultrasound image of a foetus being aborted - it's mouth apparently wide open in agony.

In the mid-Nineties, partly in response to growing public concern about such issues, the RCOG [Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists] put together a panel of experts who came to the reassuring conclusion that the foetus couldn't feel pain until 26 weeks gestation - safely beyond the abortion time limit.

They said the part of the brain that responds to pain simply isn't developed at 26 weeks. In other words, any physical movements the foetus displays before then are purely reflex actions - the foetus is not aware and can't feel anything.

But we found disturbing research in America that directly contradicts this established view. It came from Dr Sunny Anand, who has a distinguished record in helping to prove that very young babies can feel pain. When he was based at Oxford University in the 1980s his work helped to ensure that newborn babies were routinely given pain relief for surgical procedures.

His latest research is extremely technical and covers two areas. First, he's been comparing how newborn babies and unborn foetuses react to any kind of stress, including pain.

He's found similar changes in their hormones and their blood flow, suggesting that foetuses can indeed respond to pain.

Secondly, he's been researching - using rats - exactly which parts of the developing brain are used to detect pain.

He says that while the adult uses the very top section of the brain, the foetus has the first flickerings of sensation in the area below that. Crucially, this part of the brain develops before 26 weeks.

His conclusions could have enormous consequences for the abortion debate. He told Dispatches: "I believe that foetuses can feel pain very likely by 20 weeks of gestation and possibly even earlier."

Rosary Films made a high resolution version of The Silent Scream available via YouTube two months ago. It has been called "the most important video on abortion ever made." The baby filmed while being aborted was only 12 weeks old. His or her heartrate went from a norm of 140 to 200 while being drawn and quartered, indicating the probability babies feel pain much earlier than 20 weeks.

View Part I, 5:24, here.
View Part II, 6:12, here.

Part III, 11:03, shows the actual abortion on ultrasound:

View Part IV, 5:19, here.
View Part V, 3:48, here.

Why do we give every benefit of doubt to animals feeling pain, and make every legal precaution, but not preborn humans?

[HT: moderator jasper]


August 31, 2005
Fetal pain and logic

Yesterday, Tim posted thoughts by Justin Taylor on the JAMA fetal pain controversy.

As you know, I also wrote of the fetal pain controversy in my WorldNetDaily.com column today.

I have additional thoughts on John's commentary, specifically on his following points:

I have a hard time getting emotionally invested in the issue of fetal pain.... It seems clear to me that the goal behind the proposed legislation is not really about alleviating pain from fetuses. (After all, the fetuses get killed anyway!) The hope is that once a mother is informed about the reality of fetal pain by her physician, she will change her mind and pursue other options besides abortion.

I have mixed feelings about this approach. On the one hand, I embrace forms of pragmatism and incrementalism in the fight for life. If it's true that unborn babies feel pain at 20 weeks, and if informing a mother of this fact causes her not to murder her baby, then I support such legislation.

All the while, I believe we should be making passionate, persuasive arguments against a functional view of personhood (roughly, that a "person" is defined by his functions)....

Nonetheless, I wonder if some of our language as Christians can unwittingly reflect or reinforce a functional view of personhood....

Dear blogger host Tim further added:

I note that the use of pain or the developmental status of an unborn baby as the basis for an ethical argument opposing abortion is prone to difficulty because, as Justin articulates, it can be used to demean the personhood of the child....

I’m not writing in opposition to the incremental approaches mentioned by Justin, nor backing down from criticism of the JAMA article. I simply agree with Justin that the argument must ultimately be brought back to its metaphysical basis.

I do not want to discount anything John and Tim say. I understand their logic.

I will simply add this point.

Sometimes discussion of logic, functions, and metaphysics does take us away from the actual.

The actuality is that second trimester fetuses beyond 20 weeks assuredly feel intense, prolonged pain while being drawn and quartered via abortion.

If we cannot stop abortion yet, we can at least try to ensure these babies are humanely murdered. I can barely sit here imagining the torture these babies endure while being killed. I can't stop the killing, but perhaps I can alleviate their suffering.

Even the Roman soldiers offered Jesus vinegar water while killing Him.

And if, along the way, this discussion helps people understand these are humans being killed, all the better.


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