- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

CHICAGO (AP) — Researchers with the University of California at San Francisco say a review of medical evidence indicates fetuses likely don’t feel pain until the final months of pregnancy.

Their report, appearing in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association, said data from dozens of studies and medical reports shows that fetuses likely are incapable of feeling pain until about the seventh month of pregnancy, when they are almost 28 weeks old.

While brain structures involved in feeling pain begin forming much earlier, existing research suggests they likely do not function until the pregnancy’s final stages, said the report’s senior author, UCSF obstetric anesthesiologist Dr. Mark Rosen.

“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.”

The report comes as Congress is expected to consider legislation requiring doctors to provide fetal pain information to women seeking abortions when fetuses are at least 20 weeks old, and to offer women fetal anesthesia at that stage of the pregnancy. A handful of states have enacted similar measures.

But the researchers said offering fetal pain relief during abortions in the fifth or sixth months of pregnancy is misguided and might result in unacceptable health risks to women.

Dr. Nancy Chescheir, chairwoman of obstetrics and gynecology at Vanderbilt University and a board director at the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, said the article “will help to develop some consensus” on when fetuses feel pain. “To date, there hasn’t been any.”

The authors include the administrator of a UCSF abortion clinic, but the researchers dispute the assertion that the report is biased.

Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, JAMA’s editor-in-chief, said the decision to publish the review was not politically motivated.

“Oh, please,” Dr. DeAngelis said. “If I had a political agenda, I wouldn’t pick fetal pain.”

JAMA does not publish “politically motivated science. We publish data-based, evidence-based science,” Dr. DeAngelis said.

The measure pending in Congress would affect about 18,000 U.S. abortions a year performed in the fifth month of pregnancy or later, said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee. He said the review is slanted.

But Dr. Rosen said that administering anesthesia or painkillers to the fetus could pose health risks to the mother.

Dr. Anand, the researcher from Arkansas, said the authors excluded or minimized evidence suggesting fetal pain sensation begins in the second trimester and wrongly assume that fetuses’ brains sense pain in the same way as adult brains.

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