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August 24, 2005


Jay Anderson

The whole fetal pain inquiry is really quite irrelevant. Since when is it okay to kill people so long as they feel no pain while you're snuffing out their lives?


Look at the bright side: even looking at the question, albeit for a biased purpose, suggests that the abortion idea continues to bother all. Or why would they try to convince us that it is really painless, you know..

Eric Giunta

I don't see what the big deal is.

Everyone's got their biases. Everyone. Had the researchers in question reaches opposite conclusions, and turned out to be devout Christians I don't think any pro-lifers would be subjecting them to this scrutiny.

Their research should be allowed to speak for itself, and no prejudgement made because of suspected biases.


Eric is right. The principal proponents of fetal pain legislation are all prolife. Does this mean that their claims that fetal pain exists earlier in pregnancy should be discounted? This amounts to an ad hominem attack and should be discounted on such a basis as to the truth or falsity of the claims made. Must every debate in this country -- even a debate as crucial as abortion -- be debased to the level of talk-radio spin-doctoring and innuendo-mongering?

Jay Anderson

Eric, if some pro-lifer had conducted the study and found that, indeed, the unborn can feel pain in utero, the pro-aborts and their willing accomplices in the MSM would have called "bias".

The key difference is that the MSM would not have reported it as a straightforward news story without calling attention to the "biases" of those who conducted the study.

Ian Laurenzi


The problem is that it wasn't their research. They didn't experiment on fetuses themselves, but dug through the literature.

The problem with this kind of research is that you can pick and choose the paper you think are credible. Sort of like blogging. ;) But formulating hypotheses and testing them really requires a dedicated experimental design. This paper does not do so.

Jay Anderson

But again, the whole thing is irrelevant - lack of pain doesn't make it okay to kill people.

That's why legislation calling for anesthesia to be administered before an abortion misses the mark completely.



just in case you missed, the point is that to publish in a major scientific journal you must declare you potential conflicts of interest. And they did not do that.

I totally agree that everyone has a bias. But the criticism is that JAMA should have been told. And that smacks of dishonesty.


Good point, Jay. The same can be said for euthanasia. Just because someone may find a way to make it a painless process shouldn't make it acceptable or something that's not evil.

Tinny Tim

The whole philosophy of the abortion industry is based on a lie, so should we really be surprised when they distort facts or make omissions of material fact in order to mislead?

Tinny Tim

In any event, we should not accept the invitation to adopt the premise of the whole issue, which is that feeling pain is a factor in determining personhood or the human-ness of a given being. The inabilities to feel pain or think cognitively or communicate with others do not make one sub-human, or non-human, or an inanimate object that can be thrown into the trash.

reluctant penitent

We have Eric and Celine...but where's Katherine?

'This amounts to an ad hominem attack and should be discounted on such a basis as to the truth or falsity of the claims made.'

The journal itself asks all contributors to reveal conflicts of interest. The editor recognizes that there is an appearance of conflict of interest here. The editor would have published the authors' affiliations if they had been made known to the editor. This has nothing to do with and 'ad hominem' attack and everything to do with the journal's policies.

reluctant penitent

'lack of pain doesn't make it okay to kill people'

This is one article. There is other evidence that contradicts this article's findings. (For example M. Fisk, et al., Fetal Plasma Cortisol and B-endorphin Response to Intrauterine Needling, Lancet, Vol. 344, July 9, 1994)It's precisely because the article's findings on a controversial issue are so unusual given so much other evidence that a disclosure of their backgrounds--as is demanded by journal policy--would have been appropriate.

reluctant penitent

'The whole fetal pain inquiry is really quite irrelevant.'

If the fetus feels pain then abortionists may be required to give fetuses an anaesthetic before killing them. This would be a pretty effective way of reminding both the doctor and the mother that a human being is about to be killed. It's not at all irrelevant to the battle against abortion.

Mary Kay


A special note of thanks for this one. I figured there was a catch someplace, but frantically trying to finish packing before tomorrow's move prevented me from doing my own research.


Eh? I don't know what you were expecting me to say--clearly nothing good--but in fact I agree with you. I know next to nothing about how peer reviewed medical journals operate and basically trust JAMA's editor to know what she's talking about and what should and should not be disclosed. It doesn't mean that the study is false of course, but if JAMA's editor says this is the sort of thing they customarily make a note of and that they ask authors to reveal, well then, the authors should have done so.

Based on my very brief, very unimpressive career as a reporter, JAMA's policy seems similar to good newspaper disclosure practices about disclosing reporters' relevant affiliations. But if it were more stringent than a newspaper, I'd still trust it.


The claims of the study can be easily refuted by asking any nurse who works in a neo-natal intensive care unit, working with premature babies in the 22-wk to 27-wk range. Why else would these babies cry when an IV is inserted, or other procedures performed? Granted, premature babies are no longer fetuses, but brain development doesn't occur instantaneously when a preemee is born!

Jay Anderson

"It's not at all irrelevant to the battle against abortion."

Sorry, I disagree. Once pain or lack thereof enters into the moral equation, then it only becomes a question of doing what is necessary to "ease" the suffering.

Killing people is wrong regardless of whether or not the person being killed feels pain in the process of being killed.

Dan Crawford

Yes, "the research should be allowed to speak for itself", but its conclusions and methodology are based on assumptions and definitions that need to be challenged from the outset. The study,like so man others in the "hard" and "social" sciences reaches conclusions and makes judgments unwarranted by the evidence itself. It's one of the reasons why the social sciences and "evolutionary" science and now "abortion" science can't be taken all that seriously. This study can't even figure out what "pain" is, nor how it can be discerned except in the crudest way. The newspaper article itself suggests that the author apparently lacks any faculty for critical thought.

Tinny Tim

brain development doesn't occur instantaneously when a preemee is born!

Sure it does, just like that blob of tissue magically becomes a living human person at birth. You know, it is rather curious that the religiously-minded, attacked as narrow-minded know-nothings, are greater defenders of scientific fact than are so-called scientists, who cling to arbitrary, irrational views of nonreality to justify their actions.

reluctant penitent

'Once pain or lack thereof enters into the moral equation, then it only becomes a question of doing what is necessary to "ease" the suffering.'

Of course it would not be a decisive victory over the pro-abortion side. But the pro-abortion side is very much opposed to this for a reason--because the requirement that the unborn baby be given a painkiller risks humanizing the baby. It would be one battle won in the war against the killing fo the unborn.

'Killing people is wrong regardless of whether or not the person being killed feels pain in the process of being killed.'

I agree. But this has nothing to do with the importance for the pro-life side of a legal requirement to treat the unborn baby as one would a regular human patient. It makes the opposing side's claim that one is dealing here with just a clump of tissue more difficult to sell to the public.

I apologize Katherine. I was under the impression that you were inclined object to posts on this blog that are critical of the pro-abortion side.

ATP for short

I agree with Reluctant Penitent. It does matter whether or not we can make another dent in the "just a blob of tissues" lie by ascertaining that the fetus does, indeed, feel pain.


Only occasionally; I'm much more inclined to irritate y'all in other ways on other issues.

I do think there is a tendency on both sides of the abortion debate to describe the other side's subjective motivations and beliefs in an inaccurate way and/or to impute the views and actions of an extremist fringe to anyone who disagrees with you, which is locking us into a morally unacceptable status quo. I also think that convincing people of this is way beyond my weak powers of persuasion. I've had no success whatsoever in convincing militant pro-choice people of this, and they're the ones who don't believe that there's an ongoing genocide and who overlap much more with my general political and religious views than people here and thus trust me more. So I focus my irritating arguments elsewhere.

Technical question: when newspapers speek of the fetus' age, do they start counting on day of fertilization, the day of the first missed period, or do they carelessly switch back and forth?


Celine wrote, in defending Eric :

"This amounts to an ad hominem attack ..."

Isn't abortion the ultimate "ad hominem" attack ?


btw, the initial New York Times article notes that Ellen Drey has performed abortions; she actually brings it up:

Dr. Eleanor A. Drey, one of Dr. Rosen's co-authors, said that as an obstetrician who performed abortions and the medical director of an abortion clinic, she would find it troubling to be compelled to bring up the subject of fetal pain with her patients. "I would be forced to drag them through potentially a lot of misinformation," Dr. Drey said. "Our systematic review has shown it's extremely unlikely that pain exists at a point when abortions are done. I'm going to have to talk about something I know will cause the patient distress, something that by our best assessment of the scientific data is not relevant."

USCF, by it's own admission, thought it was "critical to include an expert in abortion" but didn't think it was critical to disclose that to JAMA?

At best, it shows bias. At worst, it's dishonest.

Tinny Tim

she would find it troubling to be compelled to bring up the subject of fetal pain with her patients.

OK, she believes in "choice" and "autonomy," but she does not believe in informed consent or that choices should be made knowingly and intelligently, with a full understanding of the nature and consequences of the choice.

Tim Young

Note to Katherine et al
Don't trust peer reviewed medical journals. Over half the time, the published articles don't contain enough evidence to support the authors conclusion. ( I'm a physician, and spend a good deal of my time evaluating articles in peer reviewed journals for validity. The 50% figure comes from a review in a British medical journal.) I haven't seen the JAMA article yet, so can't comment on it, but wonder how one can study a largely subjective thing ( pain ) in a fetus.

Mary Kay

Tim, I wondered about your comment about studying "a largely subjective thing (pain)." While trying to re-find the sites describing Dr. Anand's research, I came across several sites that describe the fetus responding to a needle the same a newborn would, withdraw etc.

Perhaps others use more stringent criteria but sites like the following sure have me convinced:


A scholarly work which has passed peer review and appears in JAMA is not likely to be a propaganda piece. Even if one slips through, science has the nice property that experiments can be repeated, new data can be analyzed, and new inquiry which holds to the rigorous standards of the discipline can correct past mistakes.



Ever wonder why one week a study shows one outcome, and in another week a similar study shows the exact opposite outcome. Unfortunately scientific studies are abysmal and many times data is fudged to present the outcome the researchers hypothsize, to enable further funding for additional studies to try to confirm their findings.


The story about this fetal pain study appeared on the front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, just below the masthead, above the fold.

To the editors, it was clearly big news...not to mention anyone who wants to have an abortion but is worried about "hurting" the baby. (Yes I know this story is timely because of the fetal pain legislation issue, but Jay Anderson truly cuts to the heart of the matter in his first post.)

On the same front page was a long story about Paris Hilton's shortcomings as an owner of teacup chihuahuas. She recently traded in said doggie for an even smaller one that will be easier to carry in her purse. This is downright mean, see, and demonstrates a lack of compassion for the animal's right to live as a happy, dignified and well-exercised dog and not a fashion accessory.

I love dogs and think the criticism of Paris is justified, but does anyone else see a DISCONNECT between these two front page stories?


Technical question: when newspapers speek of the fetus' age, do they start counting on day of fertilization, the day of the first missed period, or do they carelessly switch back and forth?

None of the above. Generally, when the age of an unborn baby is referred to (or the number of weeks that a woman is pregnant), it is from the first day of the last period. So, when a baby is referred to as 8 weeks, that's from the first day of the last period that the mother had, which is really more like 6 weeks actual age of the baby. The only exceptions that I have seen to this general rule come when you are reading books on embryology or things of that nature that will show the level of development from the point of fertilization. But everybody else (including the woman's ob doctor) will refer to how far along things are from the first day of the last period.

Jay Anderson

Exactly, cv.

What if a whole lot of newspapers report on this study, and as a result, a whole lot of people believe this study to be accurate?

The argument HAS to be made that whether or not the fetus suffers pain in utero is irrelevant to whether or not it is moral to take its life. As one astute person pointed out to me tonight, it takes us right back to the arguments over whether Terri Schiavo was in pain during her ordeal. IT IS IRRELEVANT!

Just because death can occur without pain doesn't give you the right to kill someone.


Research fraud = lost funding & lost reputation & lost academic appointment & lost career.

Rather than try to find some evil political motive in this research, read the above posting by Jay Anderson. He has it right. Fetal pain is irrelevant to the issue of abortion.


Mary Kay

Yes, it can be said that fetal pain is irrelevant to the issue of abortion.

But ackowledging fetal pain might begin to break through the wall of denial for some.

Donald R. McClarey

Yet another example of politicized junk science attempting to masquerade as objective research. Yawn.


When I was pro-choice, I thought these little babies in utero where nothing but a blob of tissue. It was a couple of surprisingly "irrelevant" issues that dissolved the false premises upon which my beliefs were based. Fetal pain is just one more way to do this. If it were irrelevent the abortion doctor wouldn't be so opposed. It is the same with ultrasound pictures. It humanizes the baby and forces a woman to fully weigh her "choice". The difference between the conflict of interest that may have existed if the researcher was pro-life and these researchers is PROFIT.

Tim Young

"A scholarly work which has passed peer review and appears in JAMA is not likely to be a propaganda piece"
Got the article today and read it. The first sentence of the abstract is "Proposed federal legislation would require physicians to inform women seeking abortion at 20 or more weeks...This article examines whether a fetus feels pain...". Combine that with the obvious confilct of interest of 2 of the authors, and you have perfect recipe for bias.
The article, by the way, does have some significant threats to its validity, not to mention that it is largely observational in nature, not experimental.


This is a highly relevant debate, only not for Catholics. Some other Christians and most other people follow the pre-nineteenth century understanding of the embryo and second-trimester fetus to be pre-human. The Church has "developed" a much higher understanding of the holiness of humanity, especially in the womb, than many other Christians. Liberal yet orthodox Christians who allow for abortions in some cases are actually consistent with medieval Catholic theology, which followed St. Thomas' understanding of quickening and viability.

The issues around feeling pain are relevant in several areas. The basic thesis of abortion supporters is that fetuses (and embryos of course) are not conscious and do not feel pain, or anything. They are pre-human and therefore mere vegetables with a special status, based solely on the conscious mother's intentions and sentiments. Remember the weighing of Terri Schiavo's brain at autopsy in attempt to prove that she had no consciousness, felt nothing, and therefore was not really human. Same with the fetuses who do not feel pain. The issue is consciousness and whether this being is human.

To be fair to some abortion supporters, they do not consider an abortion of a non-conscious (in the sense of self awareness) and nonfeeling pre-human to be murder. There I did it. I explained how people support the abominable action of abortion.

As Catholics, we don't really care. Humans of any stage and status deserve protection, even from their mothers. But for those here who think that natural law dictates the immorality of abortion, the feeling pain issue is important as it is one attempt to get at the level of consciousness, if any, possessed by a fetus.

I think Amy is right to point out the bias of these reproductive health professionals--they are not researchers, really. And I think that science, properly conducted, is likely to show fetuses to have a much higher level of consciousness than many doctors, especially abortion provides, now think exists.

The problem for us is that we are really arguing about the status of late-term abortions. I think it is unlikely that first trimester embryos feel pain or have other higher functions that humans and even animals have. So if we base our argument against this heinous practice on evidence of pain and bloodshed of late abortions, we may be in effect conceeding that early abortions are less evil.


wilson writes:

The claims of the study can be easily refuted by asking any nurse who works in a neo-natal intensive care unit, working with premature babies in the 22-wk to 27-wk range. Why else would these babies cry when an IV is inserted, or other procedures performed?

Do premature babies in the 22 to 27 week range in fact cry when such procedures are performed? I would not be surprised if they did not; I think in general they are on ventilators and wouldn't have the strength to cry if they wanted to. (I am actually not sure that there are any examples of babies born prior to 25 weeks that have survived more than a few minutes after delivery.)

(This is not to say that the study is right or wrong, but just a question of fact about this objection.)


Here's an article at this link that further shows the study was biased: http://www.lifenews.com/nat1562.html

mom to preemie

I think that if a woman kills her baby she should be killed in the same manner.My daughter was born at 28 weeks and I saw her in pain even at that tiny part of her life she couldnt cry out loud buti saw the tears in her eyes when they put her IV in and Another babies silent cries when he was on his vent.Babies are alive and feel pain.And are a gift we should make sure are taken care of not cut into peices and thrown into the trash.I went through alot to give my baby the chance to live and these women dont even give it a second thought.

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