Pro-abortion doctor admits preborn children suffer, says anaesthetics should be used

By Paul Tuns
The Interim

Pro-abortion doctor Vivette Glover, of Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital in London, England, recommended Aug. 28 that “all terminations [abortions] between 17 and 24 weeks be performed under anaesthetic,” after recognizing the unborn child is capable of feeling pain.

Her remarks came more than two months before Glover chairs a November conference at the Royal Institution on fetal awareness, a polite phrase used to refer to the fact that the child in the womb feels pain.

In the Sept. 2 London Telegraph, columnist Daniel Johnson reacted with horror to the announcement. He said, “Prof. Glover’s response should disturb us even more than her belated recognition that the ‘termination’ of unborn babies in the womb is likely to cause unimaginable suffering. Rather than face the truth, she simply calls for anaesthetics.”

He ridiculed Glover’s position (in her words) that “One should think about how one is doing it in the most pain-free way.” He called the proposal absurd, because “if the ability to feel pain is sufficiently characteristic of a conscious human being for it to be wrong to disregard such pain, as Prof. Glover concedes, then how can it be right, first, to deprive the fetus of that consciousness, and then to kill it?

“If the fetus is a person, with human rights, then to kill it is murder; if it is not a person and has no rights, then why should it be anaesthetized like a person? The legitimate purpose of anaesthesia is to lessen the patient’s suffering, not to facilitate his violent death.”

Paul Tully, general secretary for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, told The Interim that anesthetizing the unborn child “misses the whole point.” Abortion, he said, “denies the right to life; this policy is misplaced compassion, considering they’re going to kill the baby anyway.”

He compared this newfound concern for the unborn to the walrus in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, who wept over the fate of the oysters he was eating.

Ann Furedi, spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, whose clinics do about 50,000 abortions annually, responded to Glover’s announcement by denying that any “new evidence had been presented to suggest that the fetus is capable of experiencing pain” and that her agency’s “primary concern” is the “well-being of the woman.” Thus the use of anesthesia would be unnecessary.

Indeed, new evidence was not present, for the issue of when the unborn child begins to feel pain is not new. It’s just that no abortion advocate has acknowledged the scientific and medical evidence of fetal pain until now.

Research compiled by Campaign Life Coalition shows the extent of that evidence. The organization’s Abortion Briefing Book states, “Modern technologies such as fibre optics, sonograms and EEG lend further proof by giving us a clear picture of the baby before birth.”

In the Feb. 24, 1984 American Medical News, Dr. Vincent Collins, a Fellow of the American Board of Anesthesiologists, said as early as eight to ten weeks gestation, and definitely by the thirteenth week, an unborn child experiences pain. The physiological evidence he cited includes a fully developed cortex by four to five weeks of age, observable reflex actions by four to seven weeks, detectable brain waves by six to seven weeks, the development of nerves connecting the spinal cord to peripheral structures by six to eight weeks, observable adverse reaction to stimuli by eight to ten weeks, and the presence of neurotransmitters capable of sending pain signals to the brain by 12 weeks. Most abortions are carried out between eight and 12 weeks.

Further scientific evidence supports the conclusion the unborn child can feel pain early in its life. Studies presented to the Supreme Court of the United States in J.M. vs. V.C. in 1992 showed that by seven weeks, skin pain receptors are present and that the full development of the thalamus, mid-brain, brain stem and cerebellar hemisphere has occurred by 12 weeks.

The Telegraph’s Johnson points to even earlier knowledge of the possibility of fetal pain. He noted that an Oxford doctor, Thomas Willis (who coined the term “neurologie”) knew of the existence of the fetal nervous system in the 17th-century.

Dr. Ken Craig, a University of British Columbia pain researcher and professor of psychology told the Aug. 30 Vancouver Sun, that after 15 years studying fetal pain, that if there was any doubt, “I say we should give the babies the benefit of the doubt.”

Life, a British pro-life organization, said the proposal to anaesthetize babies before killing them was an attempt to sedate the consciences of those carrying out abortions. Columnist Daniel Johnson called the use of anaesthesia an attempt to “ease society’s bad conscience.” The desire to anaesthetize the child, he said, is a form of moral anaesthesia, a term coined by Viktor von Weizsäcker, a German scientist who reflected on how eugenics and genocide became accepted in his country in the Nazi era.

Tulley said abortion advocates deny scientific fact because they cannot allow any hint of humanity to attach to the unborn child. He said knowledge about the pain the unborn child feels is a “powerful issue for switching people over to think about the humanity of the child.”

Will Johnston of Canadian Physicians for Life told the Aug. 29 National Post he doesn’t expect the Canadian Medical Association to convene a panel on fetal pain any time soon.