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|Sat, 07-21-2007 - 7:41pm|
The expert quoted by the pro-abortion side was Ervin E. Nichols, director of practice activities for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). He pontificated: "We are unaware of any evidence of any kind that would substantiate the claim that pain is perceived by a fetus." Two former ACOG presidents fired back. "It can be clearly demonstrated," testified Dr. Richard T. F. Schmidt, "that fetuses seek to evade certain stimuli in a manner which in an adult would be interpreted as reaction to pain." Dr. Fred Hofmeister wrote that the data from electrocardiograms during saline abortions shows "that the fetus experiences discomfort as it dies."
Many other experts wrote or spoke out on the issue, including a specialist in pain control, Dr. Vincent J. Collins, a diplomate of the American Board of Anesthesiologists. He estimated the age at which a preborn child feels pain: "As early as eight to 10 weeks' gestation, and definitely by thirteen and a half weeks, the human fetus experiences organic pain."
It is possible to detect organic pain in a non-communicative subject. Dr. Thomas Sullivan, a pediatric neurologist, says that there are two criteria. First, the subject must have the proper equipment to sense noxious stimuli. For example, a chicken with its head cut off may run around for awhile, but it's missing some of the necessary structures to feel pain.
Dr. Sullivan says that the equipment that humans use to sense pain includes special pain receptors in nerve endings that connect nerve fibers to transmit signals from the receptor to the spinal cord; neurons within the spinal cord that carry the signal to the brain; the thalamus, which senses the pain; and the cortex, which supplies psychological responses to the pain and also directs a response. All of this complex equipment is in place, states Dr. Sullivan, "perhaps as early as eight weeks, but certainly by thirteen and a half weeks."
If the equipment is there, a neurologist can look for the second element: Does the subject "respond aversely"? There are different kinds of responses to stimuli, reflexive and aversive. When the doctor hits your knee with a hammer, you kick, but this is not evidence of pain or anger. This is a reflexive response. If you stick your fingers down your throat, a gagging reflex occurs without any consultation with your brain. An aversive response is far more complex; it engages the whole central nervous system and " the whole body's attempt to escape or avert noxious stimuli."
Dr. William Matviuw, an obstetrician/gynecologist, says that the nerves that sense pain reach the skin of the fetus by the ninth week of gestation. Electrical impulses pass through the neural fibers and through the spinal column between the eighth and ninth week of gestation. Detectable brain activity in response to noxious stimuli occurs between the eighth and tenth week.1
Using all this equipment and then responding may take a little longer, says Dr. Matviuw. At seven weeks, a child will pull his lips back if you tap on his mouth. By 10 weeks, the palms of the hands are sensitive to touch. By 11 weeks, the face will respond to touch. "By thirteen and a half weeks, organic response to noxious stimuli occurs at all levels of the nervous system, from the pain receptors to the thalamus." 2