Wednesday, August 24, 2005

No Pain, No Gain

An article of page A10 of the Los Angeles Times today reports that a review of about 1,500 scientific studies concludes that it is highly unlikely that fetuses can feel pain before the 29th week of pregnancy. This finding contradicts several pieces of proposed abortion legislation. Here are a few choice paragraphs from the article:

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."

Emphasis mine

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.


breakerslion said...

A well-reasoned and supported argument that will unfortunately carry no weight with the pro-life types. Pro-lifers will believe what they want to believe and reject any evidence to the contrary. This is because their argument is an emotional one, the basis of which is often deeply subconscious. Many people are pro-life because, whether they know it or not, they are racist, and believe that the white race will be overrun by other races because we are permitting abortions and they are not. Others are pro-life because deep down inside, they feel unloved and unwanted and believe that their mother would have "killed" (aborted) them given the opportunity without the social stigma. There are other, more straightforward emotional beliefs as well, but none of these motives are based on reason.

buffalobobb said...

Unfortunately, there isn't much of a before-life either. Why don't they just surgically turn women into Stepford Wives at birth, complete with chains? No wonder visions of heaven are so commonplace--this type wants a Hell on earth.

Aaron Kinney said...

You are sadly very correct beakerslion. These arguments I present will carry no weight with the pro-afterlife types.

Just like you said, their arguments are emotional. They are based on subjective desire, not objective reality.

Rickets said...

Interesting article and good post - though like the others I'm sure the pro-lifers will make up some new argument to 'defend' (poorly) against this.

Anonymous said...

You mistakenly equate the soul with consciousness as defined by this study. However, most branches of theism do not state that dogs or cats have souls; and yet, they are quite capable of feeling pain, and fit the definition of conscious used in this study. This study may or may not be an argument for abortion up to the 29th week, but it says nothing about the existence or non-existence of a soul.

Anonymous said...

Just because a 'soul' as you call it does not 'arise' as you say until it develops sufficiently ... is a fallacious argument. The issue of whether a soul exists or not has nothing to do with whether it spontaneously arises with the development of proper brain tissues. The 'soul' or 'consciousness' of course is not exhibited in a rock! An 'ethereal' type of entity like a soul would of course have to have a proper vehicle to fit into in order to manipulate and/or experience its world. Thus, according to either your or a pro-lifer's viewpoint, abortion is fine because even if a soul exists, it is not aware or conscious of pain until it develops the structures necessary to interact with it's environment! Whether consciousness merely arises as an aggregate process or not shouldn't even enter into this argument. That's all I am saying. The point of a soul entering into the issue of abortion is moot whether or not the 'soul' exists. Morality shouldn't enter into either because the term 'morality' is subjective, relative, and variable according to conditions! For example, according to a 'pro-environmental' morality, I could say that abortions are great because we are over-populating the planet and ruining the eco-system! According to a superstitious, unprovable morality like any one of many mono-theistic variations.. it is wrong because 'jesus loves all the little children' etc etc etc. According to a 'gnostic' interpretation of the same jesus, the material universe was created by an evil demiurge and to procreate merely provides the evil Tetragrammaton with more living slave-entities.. so even according to some variations of Christianity abortion was actually considered a sacrament! What IS IS. A person's body is their domain. No one has a right to abort my baby for me or make me carry to term. That is the crux of the entire argument. That is the point on which this entire argument hinges. It (this issue of a soul) has nothing to do with it at all! I'm an atheist by the way, though I've studied various religions. My 2-cents!