A prominent doctor and scientist told a congressional committee yesterday that a recent study claiming unborn babies are unlikely to feel pain before 30 weeks gestation is based on an outdated definition of pain and used a questionable methodology that puts its findings into doubt.
Dr. K. S. Anand said the conclusions of a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association regarding fetal pain were “flawed, because they ignore a large body of research related to pain processing in the brain, present a faulty scientific rationale and use inconsistent methodology for their systematic review.” Anand, a professor of pediatrics, anesthesiology, pharmacology, and neurobiology at the University of Arkansas College of Medicine, went so far as to question whether reliability of the authors of the study. “Inconsistent inclusion of evidence and ambiguous methodology used for data syntheses (such that this systematic review cannot be replicated) raises serious questions about the author' scientific bias and the validity of their findings.”
Anand was joined by three other experts at a hearing of the House Subcommittee of the Constitution to address the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act. The bill, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, would require abortion providers to inform mothers who are 20 weeks or more into their pregnancy that their child could feel pain during the abortion and give mothers the option to have their child anesthetized before the abortion.
The committee also heard testimony from, Dr. Jean Wright, a professor of pediatrics at the Mercer School of Medicine, who operates on infants born as early as 23 weeks into gestation. She said, “we no longer speculate as to whether they feel pain. We understand it, try to avoid it and treat it when appropriate.” Wright said that giving mothers seeking abortions information on the possibility of pain is simply an extension of an already acknowledged principle of medical ethics. “Parents are entitled to this information for their children. They need it explained in a clear and meaningful way that they as laypeople can understand. This standard exists for children born; now we raise the standard and ask that it exist for those unborn. 'Will this surgery or procedure on my premature baby cause pain? What will be done to alleviate the pain and suffering?' We should answer those questions as clearly for procedures concerning the unborn as the born.”
Arthur Caplan, a bioethicists at the University of Pennsylvania, criticized the bill's requirement that abortion providers read from a script. He said it was unnecessary and was an example of Congress inappropriately inserting itself into science and medicine. “Forcing providers to read claims about fetal pain is showing no respect for the ability of the medical profession to present information about pregnancy, abortion and fetal pain.” But later in the testimony, law professor Teresa Collett said that was a mischaracterization of the bill. Though abortion providers must read a script, she said, the bill clearly gives providers the opportunity to tell the mother their own opinion.