Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Study of fetal pain is a fraud

I'll be honest: I hate to talk about abortion because it's so hard to keep the conversation from becoming inflamed. I admit it's often my fault; as you can tell by the headline I chose, I have passionate views on the subject.

Views, I must add these days, that have only tangential relationship to my religious views. Frankly, science more than God informs me that a distinct individual grows in a woman's womb, and my political philosophy tells me that individual's rights count. I envy those who can blithely assert that the mother's right to control her body trumps the unborn child's right to have a body. It must be nice not to feel the conflict I feel over this issue.

(Not long ago the Mises Institute offered an interesting series of lectures by Walter Block as .mp3's that included a fascinating libertarian approach to the question of abortion, one that of course I liked because I substantially agreed. He started to lose me when he tried to tie it to embryonic stem-cell research, but that's another issue anyway. You can go to the Mises home page and find it by exploring the Mises Media database.)

The Journal of the American Medical Association stuck its foot in it last week when it published a political treatise disguised as a scholarly study that suggested fetuses don't feel pain until seven months after conception. Within 24 hours the authors had been outed as having a particular pro-abortion ax to grind.

In fact, just reading the introduction to the JAMA study makes the political aspect of the study clear -- the first reference after the list of authors is to the politics of it:

"Proposed federal legislation would require physicians to inform women seeking abortions at 20 or more weeks after fertilization that the fetus feels pain and to offer anesthesia administered directly to the fetus. This article examines whether a fetus feels pain and if so, whether safe and effective techniques exist for providing direct fetal anesthesia or analgesia in the context of therapeutic procedures or abortion."

So the purpose of the article is not to provide an objective analysis of the facts but to present a counterargument to the assumptions behind the legislation. It's mind-boggling that the biases of the authors escaped the notice of those who wrote the initial news stories about the study. There's a laziness among journalists that leads them to believe what they see in JAMA without critical questioning. How many people now accept the study at face value because they missed the follow-up articles the next day?

You know what, though? Much as I sympathize with the intent of the legislation, which is to relieve the pain the fetus will feel as it's shredded, the bill sends Congress even further astray from the purposes for which the Constitution created it. I haven't done the research, but I'll bet you a nickel I would not find a single writing by the Founders that proposes a federal government that would micromanage the practices of health care providers. I agree with the authors of the fraudulent study on a single, narrow point -- the bill should not pass -- but for a reason completely unrelated to theirs -- because the bill is unconstitutional.


Blogger Wally Conger said...

You know, this blog is becoming indispensable. Every post is a gem, and this is one of the most thoughtful, well-balanced pieces on abortion I've ever read. Glad, too, to hear that you caught on to Block's lecture. I think it's extraordinary for the most part.

10:33 PM  

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