September 14th 2013

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Major challenges face an Abbott government

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Five lessons that Labor must learn

MARRIAGE DEBATE: Media's reaction to 'child equality' election campaign

SOCIETY: Same-sex marriage and social change:
Exceeding the speed of thought

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: The folly of a US-led Syria strike

ENERGY: Affordable, clean way to achieve fuel self-sufficiency

SCHOOLS: Educrats trying to change their spots

CHINA: Long jail term looms for 'crown prince' Bo Xilai

UNITED STATES: White House and media ignore upsurge in racial violence

LIFE ISSUES: Does an unborn child feel pain during an abortion?

LIFE ISSUES: Dr Nitschke reveals euthanasia's dark side

HISTORY: Must we be slaves of time and place?


CULTURE: The forgotten art of dressing well

BOOK REVIEW Tim Fischer's time in Rome

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Does an unborn child feel pain during an abortion?

by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, September 14, 2013

Those who seek to justify the killing of unborn babies resort to all sorts of myths and falsehoods to make their case and assuage their conscience. They in fact have to live in a world of lies and misinformation in order to defend their willingness to destroy the unborn, and make that defence seem palatable.

Denying the humanity and personhood of the unborn child is of course one main way in which they proceed. And that is always the case with those who seek to oppress others: they seek to dehumanise the victims. Thus, slave-owners dehumanised blacks, just as baby-killers dehumanise the unborn.

It is customary to hear that the unborn baby is just a blob of cells. As such, an abortion supposedly does not hurt it or cause it any pain. After all, “How can a clump of cells experience pain?”, as the pro-abortionists argue. This rhetoric is just that: rhetoric. It is really about dehumanising the victim and ignoring the evidence.

Science has shown us quite clearly that unborn babies do indeed feel pain. For example, American surgeon Robert Shearin has argued that unborn babies can experience pain at quite an early age: “As early as eight to ten weeks after conception, and definitely by thirteen-and-a-half weeks, the unborn experiences organic pain…. [At this point she] responds to pain at all levels of her nervous system in an integrated response which cannot be deemed a mere reflex. She can now experience pain.”

Another study said: “Physiologic responses to painful stimuli have been well documented in neonates of various gestational ages and are reflected in hormonal, metabolic, and cardio-respiratory changes similar to but greater than those observed in adult subjects. Other responses in newborn infants are suggestive of integrated emotional and behavioural responses to pain and are retained in memory long enough to modify subsequent behaviour patterns.”

It concluded with this caution that “humane considerations should apply as forcefully to the care of neonates and young, nonverbal infants as they do to children and adults in similar painful and stressful situations.”

More recently, a British review of the latest research has found that an unborn baby is definitely aware of pain by 24 weeks, and possibly aware as early as 20 weeks.

Other research points to the fact that pain is being felt even before 20 weeks. As one doctor explains: “At twenty weeks, the child has all the parts in place — the pain receptors, spinal cord, nerve tracts, and thalamus — needed for transmitting and feeling pain. The unborn child responds to touch as early as week six, and by week eighteen, pain receptors have appeared throughout the child’s body.”

And professor of neurobiology and anatomy Maureen L. Condic recently presented scientific evidence concerning the ability of unborn children to experience pain at a U.S. House subcommittee. I offer here a few excerpts from her written testimony.

She said: “To experience pain, a noxious stimulus must be detected. The neural structures necessary to detect noxious stimuli are in place by 8-10 weeks of human development. There is universal agreement that pain is detected by the foetus in the first trimester.

“The debate concerns how pain is experienced, i.e., whether a foetus has the same pain experience a newborn or an adult would have. While every individual’s experience of pain is personal, a number of scientific observations address what brain structures are necessary for a mental or psychological experience of pain.

“First, it is clear that children born without higher brain structures (‘decorticate’ patients) are capable of experiencing pain and also other conscious behaviours.… This indicates that the long-range connections that develop in the cortex only after 22 weeks (and are absent in these patients) are not obligatory for a psychological perception of pain….

“[W]hat we directly observe about foetal pain is very clear and unambiguous. Foetuses at 20 weeks post sperm-egg fusion have an increase in stress hormones in response to painful experiences that can be eliminated by appropriate anaesthesia. Multiple studies clearly indicate ‘the human foetus from 18–20 weeks elaborates pituitary-adrenal, sympatho-adrenal, and circulatory stress responses to physical insults’. All of these responses reflect a mature, body-wide response to pain.”

But the pain of death is of course the biggest concern of all here. Even if the abortion procedure involved no pain at all, it still results in a dead baby. That should be all the reason we need to say no to abortion. Abortion does not solve the “problem” of pregnancy — it simply gives us a dead baby.

But abortion is both painful and lethal. It involves great pain and agony while it is being undertaken, and it gives us a dead child at the end.

We rightly show pictures of young seals being clubbed to death, because we want to persuade civilised people to have this awful practice put to an end. Perhaps it is time we did the same with the awful practice of abortion. Indeed, isn’t it telling that those who most support abortion are those who get the most upset when we show them the product of their “choice”?

Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures on ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com

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