An Important New Report Is Published Today Which Reviews The Evidence On Whether The Foetus – The Child In The Womb – Can Feel Pain.
During both the last Parliament and this, under the chairmanship of the Congleton MP and lawyer, Mrs. Fiona Bruce, cross-party a group of Parliamentarians from both Houses carefully examined the evidence, spoke to witnesses ,and reviewed the literature. James Evans, Right To Life UK and CARE contributed to the research and preparation of this Report
Having served on the last Inquiry into this issue, in 1996, under the chairmanship of the former Attorney General, Lord Rawlinson of Ewall QC, I was struck that despite the increase in our scientific and medical knowledge, and the prudential argument that “if in doubt, don’t do it”, we continue to inflict what could be unspeakable pain and suffering on the child in the womb,
The Report was not prepared for the sake of a headline but for careful consideration and reflection. In these challenging and difficult times it is good that the All Party Parliamentary Group was able to complete its proceedings.
Perhaps at a moment of national crisis it is timely to think about the sanctity of human life and human suffering and, in a country where we take the life of a child in the womb every three minutes – 600 each day – we can open our hearts and minds to this supreme human rights question.
It’s a Report which should be widely shared – especially with those who have open minds and recognise that there is far more at stake here than mere choice.
This is a message from Fiona Bruce MP
The All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group (APPPG) is grateful to all those who gave evidence during our Inquiry and Review into foetal sentience and whether a foetus can feel pain in the womb. The full Report may be read here:
2020 Pro Life APPG Report on Foetal Pain
There has been much academic debate and many significant developments in both practice and understanding of this issue over the past decade.
Notably, since a Government announcement in 2019, the NHS now recommends pain relief for unborn babies undergoing surgery for spina bifida from 20 weeks gestation – the same age at which some unborn babies may be aborted by dismemberment without pain relief.
This has raised questions about the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) position on foetal pain and its guidance which states there is no need to provide analgesia for the foetus when performing an abortion at similar stages of gestation, or indeed any stage of gestation.
While we would not for a moment suggest there is certainty about the time from which a foetus can feel pain, there is nonetheless growing recognition that foetal sentience should be reappraised and taken more seriously.
This shift in concern was eloquently demonstrated as we concluded this Review with the recent publication in the Journal of Medical Ethics of an article “Reconsidering Fetal Pain.”
It is hard to overstate the importance of this article because its lead author, Dr Stuart WG Derbyshire has in the past argued that the scientific evidence does not suggest a need take account of the potential of the foetus to feel pain.
Indeed, in 2010 he was part of the RCOG working group which argued that it was not
necessary to provide analgesia in the case of abortion during any stage of pregnancy.
Dr Derbyshire’s latest article, however, co-written with John C Bockmann PA, argues that the latest developments in neuroscience suggest there is the potential for “an immediate and unreflective pain experience mediated by the developing function of the nervous system from as early as 12 weeks.” In this context he suggests a case by case approach in which the “clinical team and the pregnant woman can consider whether fetal analgesia makes sense based on the clinical requirements for the abortion, the age of the fetus and the conscience of the parties involved.”
His co-author Bockmann, meanwhile, argues that “Fetal analgesia and anaesthesia should thus be standard for abortions in the second trimester, especially after 18 weeks…”
This resonates very much with the conclusion of this review. Given the developments in the last 10 years, this Review recommends that there is now an urgent need for the RCOG to replace their outdated 2010 guidance which states that the provision of analgesia is not necessary for abortion at any gestation.6 We argue that on the basis of the precautionary principle the current evidence base is such that it would be prudent to offer women the option of analgesia for the foetus from the start of the second trimester and that this should be required from 18 weeks gestation.
With reference to the precautionary principle, Professor John Wyatt told our Inquiry “I think we should play safe, we should give the foetus the benefit of the doubt. We should assume that it is capable of experiencing pain and unpleasant sensations, and we should then treat the foetus appropriately, which would if necessary be with strong pain relief medication or with anaesthesia.”
There has been much discussion in Parliament over recent years recognising animal sentience.
It surely cannot be right that the killing of “protected animals” – all vertebrate animal foetuses subject to research from two thirds gestation – is subject to tighter legal regulation dealing with both the place where they are killed and the manner of their killing, to ensure that it is humane, than the law governing the lawful killing of human foetuses.
As Lord Alton of Liverpool states: “The last time the APPG engaged on a study of this particular issue was 1996, and even then considerable concern was expressed that a sentient developing human being could experience pain and suffering in the womb. The science and our knowledge has moved on considerably since then. The case for prudential safeguards and protection of the vulnerable is now overwhelming.”
Once again, we thank all those involved with this Review, including the Parliamentary colleagues supporting it who are named below.
Fiona Bruce MP
Chair All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group
This Report is supported by:
Lord Alton of Liverpool
Sir David Amess MP
Miriam Cates MP
Chris Green MP
Derek Thomas MP
Bob Blackman MP
Fiona Bruce MP
Dr Lisa Cameron MP
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP
Baroness Eaton DBE, DL
Nick Fletcher MP
Mary Glindon MP
Sir John Hayes MP
Sir Edward Leigh MP
Carla Lockhart MP
Baroness Masham of Ilton, DL
Jim Shannon MP
Sir Desmond Swayne MP
Martin Vickers MP
The Contents of The Report: