A Medical Detective Story; What You Felt Before You Were Born by Paul Ranalli (de Veber Institute, 60 minutes, $20)


12dvdThe issue of fetal pain is an aspect of the abortion debate that has been consistently overshadowed by the more dominating question of the personhood of the fetus. While outsiders may find this somewhat odd, the reasoning of pro-lifers is simple. If the fetus can be proven a person, as they believe it easily can, then the question of whether or not it experiences pain is essentially irrelevant to the debate about the immorality of abortion. Neurosurgeon Dr. Paul Ranalli begins his lecture with this very point, admitting to his own initial skepticism about the relevance of fetal pain to the abortion debate.

However, what finally persuaded him to look into the issue at the prompting of a colleague was a realization of the “emotional wallop” that the scientific facts could deliver. “The issue of fetal pain is disturbing to people on all sides of the argument,” he says, “and it certainly disturbs the pro-choice side.” The implication is that these facts could have a special influence on those sitting on the fence, perhaps leading them to take a stand on the pro-life side.

In recent years, fetal pain is an issue that has appeared numerous times on the American political stage, when attempts have been made in many states to introduce legislation regarding the application of anesthesia during abortions. Ranalli’s lecture is a look into the latest scientific findings on fetal pain, as well as a critique of recent errors that have been widely disseminated to the benefit of the abortion industry.

Affable and unassuming, the doctor proceeds through a series of scientific facts and arguments with a delivery that verges on the casual. His manner contrasts strongly with the sobering facts he unveils, but it only works to intensify the “emotional wallop” of his message. Ever the scientist, Ranalli consistently pursues things from a scientific viewpoint, finding fault with researchers and fellow scientists only insofar as they stray from the facts.

One would think there is little a scientist could tell the pro-life community about fetal development that it has not heard before, barring material that a layman would find beyond his reach. While it is true that the neurosurgeon occasionally strays into the latter, it is never at the expense of his key points, nor does it hamper the ultimately compelling nature of his lecture. Ranalli is talking about pain and pain is one of those topics that tend to grab a person’s attention. Furthermore, he is unveiling recent and groundbreaking discoveries in the field of fetal pain.

Until recently, it was not known at what period a human is first able to experience pain. Research led by Dr. K. J. Anand, the world’s leading pain specialist, concluded, in Ranalli’s words, “that the evidence strongly supports pain being felt by about the mid-point in pregnancy – 20 weeks.” As he goes on to explain, this evidence has not put the matter to rest, but opened up a debate.

The most shocking revelation of the lecture involves recent discoveries about the level of pain it is possible for the pre-born and newborn child to experience. “It’s somewhat more disturbing than you might even think,” says Ranalli, “that a fetus at 20 weeks can feel pain.” He goes on to explain how adults have chemical and electrical inhibitory functions that keep pain at a manageable level, but in a fetus, “that system unfortunately doesn’t develop right away; its starts later, in the 20s (weeks), and is still developing even past a regular full-term birth. This leaves a vulnerable period … where pain is felt stronger than any period for the rest of your life.”

These new discoveries have prompted physicians in the last couple decades to begin administering anesthesia to pre-term and full-term newborns. It has also prompted the abortion industry to examine the need to administer anesthesia to the fetus before mid- to late-term abortions. However, due to a number of extremely crucial errors in influential papers on the subject, which Ranalli has personally sniffed out and exposed, the scientific community continues to be misinformed on the latest findings and the public continues to remain in the dark about these biological breakthroughs.

This DVD is for individuals interested in keeping on top of the new material in the abortion debate, particularly in the area of science. I would also recommend this as ideal for use in a high school science or ethics class.

Joseph Jalsevac was an intern at The Interim this past summer.