The review, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., comes as Congress and state legislatures are considering bills that would require physicians to tell pregnant women considering abortions that fetuses feel pain and to offer the women anesthesia for the fetuses.
The study concludes that, "based on the available evidence, the fetus does not have the functional capacity to experience pain," said Dr. Eleanor A. Drey of UC San Francisco, one of the study's authors.
"That relies on consciousness, and the cortex of those infants is not well enough developed to allow for conscious processing of stimuli" like pain.
[Dr. Wendy] Chavkin said she thought the study would probably have little effect on the political debate.
"These laws have nothing to do with pain or pain reduction," Chavkin said. "They are clearly intended to stigmatize abortion, the women who have abortions, and the doctors who provide them."
Why am I putting this on my blog? Two reasons. First, to follow up with Monday's post about abortion. Secondly, notice what I bolded in the quote. Consciousness is not established even up to the 29th week of pregnancy! It raises questions about what is a soul, do they even exist, and when do they get magically implanted into the fetus? I would say that this study is another argument for materialism and against afterlife-belief. By all (admittedly materialistic) measures, the consciousness (or soul) develops over time as the central nervous system develops.
Although my argument for materialism is admittedly relying on materialistic measures, it still holds a lot of value, and I'll tell you why. If immaterialism was true, and the soul was magically implanted into a human body at conception, then the soul would not be subject to the limits of materialism and the study would not have come to the conclusions it has arrived at. In other words, if a soul were immaterial, then these fetuses would feel pain and exhibit the capabilities expected of a fully conscious human; the souls would defy the expected limits that materialism brings to the table.
Let's sum up: Conscious existence is dependent upon the physical structures (central nervous system; brain) that support them. Conscious life begins when these physical structures initiate proper function (after the 29th week), and ends when these physical structures cease proper function (typically death). There is no afterlife.