Foetus cannot feel pain before 24 weeks: Study

Updated: Jun 25, 2010, 00:00 AM IST

London: In a setback to anti-abortion
campaigners of Britain, a government study has found that the
human foetus cannot feel pain before the age of 24 weeks so
there is no reason to change the current abortion limit.

The research by the Royal College of Obstetricians and
Gynaecologists found that nerve endings in the brain are not
sufficiently formed before 24 weeks to enable pain to be felt.

"It can be concluded that the foetus cannot experience
pain in any sense prior to this gestation," said the report
commissioned by UK`s Department of Health.

This could mean that late abortions, which are permitted
for serious abnormalities or risks to the mother`s health, may
not result in foetal suffering.

Prof Allan Templeton, president of the Royal College, who
chaired the review, said that research put forward by
anti-abortion campaigners that the human foetus did feel pain
at or before 24 weeks was based on evidence from premature
babies. "This did not apply to the foetus in the womb."

A second finding is that the foetus is naturally sedated
and unconscious in the womb, leading the panel to advise that
anaesthetics for the foetus are not needed when it is

"There`s nothing in the report that suggests any need to
review the upper limit," Prof Templeton was quoted as saying.

The review would appear to remove one strut of the
argument by pro-life campaigners that the current abortion
limit needs to be lowered, although they are likely to
challenge the Royal College`s findings, the Telegraph

Two years ago British parliamentarians voted on reducing
the limit from the 24-weeks limit to 20 weeks, after the
Conservative MP Nadine Dorries tried to change it by
introducing an amendment to the "Human Fertilisation and
Embryology Bill".

The motion was defeated by a comfortable majority of 71.
At the time David Cameron said he backed reducing the limit to
20 weeks.

Dorries, a former nurse and mother of three, said
yesterday that there was "much more support" in the new intake
of MPs for a change to the limit.

Nonetheless, many Liberal Democrat MPs are thought to be
against reducing the limit.

A Downing Street spokesman said that the Prime Minister
would "continue to be guided by the science on the matter".

Anti-abortion campaigners also argue that survival rates
for very premature babies have improved markedly in the last
decade -- although the statistics are not clear-cut -- and
that abortion is still the termination of a human life.