According to Stuart Derbyshire, Senior Psychologist at the University of Birmingham, UK, there is clear evidence that fetuses are unable to feel pain. He added that offering pain relief for the fetus during an abortion is unsound and not in the best interests of the woman as it may put her at unnecessary risk.
In order to accommodate the subjectivity of pain, said Dr. Derbyshire, a fetus requires the development not only of the brain, but also the mind.
It is thought that the neural circuitry needed to process pain is complete when the fetus is 26 weeks’ old.
Dr. Derbyshire argues that the mind only starts to develop after the baby is born, as a consequence of the infants’ interaction with the outside world and people around him/her.
Even though the biological development to support pain experience may be ongoing inside the womb, it is only the environment after birth, so needed for pain experience to develop, that needs to happen. Therefore, a fetus, who is still in the womb, cannot experience pain.
Derbyshire said that his study is not looking at whether abortion is right or wrong. He says he is arguing against the use of painkillers during an abortion.
He quoted US measures underway to inform women who want an abortion about the pain the fetus will experience. If women have to, by law, take pain relief, they may be exposing themselves to unnecessary risks and distress.
Derbyshire concludes by writing ?Avoiding a discussion of fetal pain with women requesting abortions is not misguided paternalism but a sound policy based on good evidence that fetuses cannot experience pain.?
Can fetuses feel pain? BMJ Volume 332 pp 909-12
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