There have been many wonderful new medications in the past decade or so, drugs that finally bring hope for many people with serious illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and even some advanced cancers. But these drugs often come at … Continue reading →
On May 23, the family withdrew as moot their emergency motion for an injunction from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
That motion is moot, because on Saturday, May 21, 2016 at 5:30 a.m. "an air transport team consisting of a registered nurse and a respiratory therapist, as well as a ground transport team, prepared Israel for transport with the assistance of Kaiser’s medical team."
"At approximately 7:30 a.m., Israel was transported by ambulance to McClellan Airport in Sacramento. From there, Israel and his parents were transported by air ambulance to a hospital where he has been admitted as a patient."
The family reports that he was transferred "out of the United States." They further report that a neurologist and pediatric specialist at the new hospital have concluded that [Israel] is NOT brain dead."
As recent op-eds suggest, this is an under-discussed means of hastening death.
Earlier this year, Utah passed a fetal pain bill that requires the use of general anesthesia on women seeking abortions at 20 weeks gestation or later. This bill, which relies on a controversial claim that fetuses may feel pain as early as 20 weeks, has been heavily criticized as an attempt to abrogate abortion rights rather than serving a legitimate protective purpose.
The issue of fetal pain has long been a source of contention in the scientific community, and the dispute has led to several states restricting or prohibiting abortions 20 weeks or later on the basis of potential fetal pain. While many argue that this law is just one of many across the country aimed not at protecting health, but at restricting or eliminating abortion rights, this law, in fact, seems to be justified in its goal of minimizing the possible experience of suffering by the fetus.
While studies have not proven that a fetus can feel pain prior to the third trimester, reasonable doubt about the possibility of fetal experience of pain exists. As E. Christian Brugger argues in his article entitled “The Problem of Fetal Pain and Abortion: Toward an Ethical Consensus for Appropriate Behavior,” there is no moral certitude that fetuses do not feel pain after 20 weeks, and “a preponderance of evidence supports the conclusion that fetal-pain experience beginning in the second trimester of pregnancy is a real possibility.” Brugger makes the argument, drawing from several researchers of fetal neuroanatomy that all the neural structures for both pain perception and consciousness are in place by 18-20 weeks. Furthermore, he argues that those who deny fetal consciousness until much later in pregnancy may be relying on outdated assumptions which place the seat of consciousness in the cerebral cortex, despite growing evidence that the upper brainstem and subcortical tissues may actually play a greater role.
If it is reasonable to believe that the fetal experience of pain is possible after 20 weeks, it seems equally reasonable to consider requiring anesthetic or analgesia for such fetuses to prevent unnecessary suffering. Despite statements from ACOG and others supporting the assertion that fetal pain is not likely before the third trimester, even the possibility that the fetus may experience significant pain and distress supports the notion that, in the face of uncertainty, we should err on the side of preventing such pain.
Opponents of such requirements argue that anesthesia can pose significant and disproportionate risks to the woman with no corresponding benefit, and that the use of anesthesia will increase the cost of abortion significantly, potentially limiting access to the procedure for many women for financial reasons. While mandating anesthesia or analgesia is not without risks, these risks are not disproportionate if the benefit is eliminating possible pain experienced by the fetus.
Whether or not the primary purpose of this law is to curtail abortion rights, its effect is, in fact humane; that is, it is an attempt, in light of scientific and moral uncertainty, to prevent unnecessary fetal pain if, in fact, the fetus can and does experience it. This compassionate approach seems eminently reasonable, and should be supported.
The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.