The British government is considering new medical guidelines that would require unborn children to be "given painkilling drugs during late abortions or for surgery in the womb," the UK News Electronic Telegraph reports.
Health Minister Tessa Jowell is "reviewing medical evidence on fetal pain" and plans to hold a meeting with physicians, scientists and interest groups. The guidelines would address a "legal anomaly" that protects unborn animals from scientific experimentation but allows abortions and other operations to be performed on human unborn children without pain killers.
Government guidelines would "acknowledge growing scientific concern that a [child] can feel pain in the last months of pregnancy."
Research released last week from the University College London said that nervous systems of newborn babies respond to pain "differently ... feeling it longer and more sensitively than adults."
The new guidelines would recommend that anesthesia be given to 20- or 18-week-old unborn children, the Telegraph reports. Procedures such as utero transfusions, late abortions and shunt insertions would fall under the guidelines. Last year, a report issued by the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology advised hysicians to "consider using analgesia and anesthetics in tests or surgery" on unborn children older than 24 weeks.
According to Dr. Vivette Glover, a pediatrician and expert on the effects of fetal stress, "I think it is about 20 weeks but I also think we should err on the side of caution and et the limit at 18 weeks. But it is essential that research is backed, preferably by the government, to find out the appropriate levels of analgesia, especially if the [unborn child] is going to live." (Macdonald, UK News Electronic Telegraph, 8/9).