Fetal Pain, Maternal Suffering Or Human Rights?

June 29, 2010 09:00 AM

In what can only be described as an extremely dubious assertion, the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is claiming that the preborn baby cannot feel pain until 24 weeks after his life begins. In the wake of this report, “the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said it knows of no legitimate evidence that shows a fetus can experience pain.”

If that were not enough to remind us of callous disregard for human beings, we also learned that a 34-year-old mother in Britain and her husband, parents of a five-year-old child, aborted their second baby due to the mother’s severe morning sickness.

Clearly, the preborn human person is losing ground throughout the world. It is happening at an ever-escalating rate. And no matter how much the pro-life movement persists, the culture of death forges ahead, making excuses for its deadly remedies.

Bernard Nathanson, M.D., knew this early on and documented the humanity of the preborn and his pain. In fact, the suffering experienced by an 11-week-old preborn during an abortion is documented in the film The Silent Scream. This film debuted more than 20 years ago for then-President Ronald Reagan and went on to international acclaim. To no avail, it would seem. American Life League has also documented the undeniable fact that preborn children do indeed feel pain.

But is that really the point? Are pro-life citizens being distracted from the real question? Shouldn’t we be redoubling our efforts to make sure that every one of those within our area of influence understands that each individual begins his life at his biological beginning?

When I read reports like those noted above, it becomes increasingly obvious that we are conversing with the uninformed on the wrong channel. It isn’t about abortion. It's the human person and his human rights that should be the focus.

Think about the woman whose morning sickness drove her to pay to abort her child. What could possibly possess an expectant mother to resort to murder as a healing solution for her grave condition? As we learn in the story, unconcerned physicians who did not consider their moral obligation to both of their patients created the deadly dilemma in the first place. If this mother’s pregnancy had not been viewed as a disease but rather as a natural event involving two patients, death for one would never have occurred.

The rare and debilitating condition this mother suffered from, known as hyperemesis gravidarum, was never properly treated. Among the recommended therapies one should not find abortion. Indeed, Dr. Anthony Dardano, former chief of obstetrics and gynecology at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Utica, New York, explained the following:

The condition [hyperemesis gravidarum] usually subsides after the first trimester; however in the refractory cases, treatment may continue throughout the pregnancy. It is important to note that the literature does not show that the babies delivered in these cases are subject to any serious consequences. Abortion, of course, is never permitted, no matter how serious the condition has become. The principle of double effect does not apply, as the abortion would be a direct, intentional act and therefore intrinsically evil. The condition is treatable and while the treatment may be prolonged, the outcome will be satisfactory.

Having read the account of the case in England, I can’t help but think that their national health plan recommended abortion as a cost-saving measure. Needless to say, I am thoroughly disappointed in any system which would allow such a practice. This sad case re-emphasizes what I have felt all along: We all need more prayer to correct this problem, and the general public needs more education on ethical issues such as these.

Human rights have been dismissed as irrelevant to the second person in a pregnancy—the preborn child. The fact that every person is of equal value, regardless of fetal pain or maternal sickness, is an argument that falls flat among those who see abortion as therapy, those who see medical abortion as an easy alternative, or those who see abortion via abortifacient contraceptives as convenient—or deniable.

The solution is clear. Human rights must be our focus. The right to have one's life protected by law is the most fundamental human right that exists. It starts with recognizing every person from his biological beginning as an equal member of society.

Does fetal pain matter? Does excruciating maternal suffering matter? Or do human rights for one and all—without exception—matter much more?

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