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Education And Debate

Commentary: “Fetal pain” is a misnomer

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 28 September 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:795
  1. Stuart W G Derbyshire, research fellowa,
  2. Ann Furedi, directorb
  1. a University of Manchester Rheumatic Diseases Centre, Clinical Sciences Building, Hope Hospital, Salford M6 8HD
  2. b Birth Control Trust, London W1N 7RD
  1. Correspondence to: Dr S W G Derbyshire, Department of Radiology, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 200 Lothrop Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 2582, USA.

    A report on the effects of intrauterine needling of fetuses at 23 or more weeks of gestation1 has given rise to discussion about whether fetuses feel pain.1 2 This has important implications for professionals who provide abortion. Firstly, women considering having an abortion often seek reassurance that the fetus will not “suffer pain.” Secondly, several parliamentarians who oppose abortion have demanded that the abortion law should be amended to take account of fetal perceptions of pain.

    We suggest that fetal responses to invasive procedures do not indicate a conscious appreciation of pain. Scientific evidence suggests that women considering abortion can be assured that fetuses do not experience pain in the way that those who oppose abortion claim. Parliamentary claims that a fetus …

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