letter to the president from several physicians

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Does a Fetus Feel Pain?  Former president Ronald Reagan said once, "When the lives of the unborn are snuffed out, they often feel pain, pain that is long and agonizing."(New York Times, Jan. 31, 1984) Many people disputed this statement, but the president received a letter from many doctors, including two former presidents of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2 weeks later. The letter read:

February 13, 1984 President Ronald Reagan The White House Washington, DC

Mr. President:

As physicians, we, the undersigned, are pleased to associate ourselves with you in drawing the attention of people across the nation to the humanity and sensitivity of the human unborn.

That the unborn, the prematurely born, and the newborn of the human species is a highly complex, sentient, functioning, individual organism is established scientific fact. That the human unborn and newly born do respond to stimuli is also established beyond any reasonable doubt.

The ability to feel pain and respond to it is clearly not a phenomenon that develops de novo at birth. Indeed, much of enlightened modern obstetrical practice and procedure seeks to minimize sensory deprivation of, and sensory insult to, the fetus during, at, and after birth. Over the last 18 years, real time ultrasonography, fetoscopy, study of the fetal EKG (electrocardiogram) and fetal EEG (electroencephalogram) have demonstrated the remarkable responsiveness of the human fetus to pain, touch, and sound. That the fetus responds to changes in light intensity within the womb, to heat, to cold, and to taste (by altering the chemical nature of the fluid swallowed by the fetus) has been exquisitely documented in the pioneering work of the late Sir William Liley -- the father of fetology. Observations of the fetal electrocardiogram and the increase in fetal movements in saline abortions indicate that the fetus experiences discomfort as it dies. Indeed, one doctor who, the New York Times wrote, "conscientiously performs" saline abortions stated, "When you inject the saline, you often see an increase in fetal movements, it's horrible."

We state categorically that no finding of modern fetology invalidates the remarkable conclusion drawn after a lifetime of research by the late Professor Arnold Gesell of Yale University. In "The Embryology of Behavior: The Beginnings of the Human Mind" (1945, Harper Bros.), Dr. Gesell wrote, "and so by the close of the first trimester the fetus is a sentient, moving being. We need not speculate as to the nature of his psychic attributes, but we may assert that the organization of his psychosomatic self is well under way."

Mr. President, in drawing attention to the capability of the human fetus to feel pain, you stand on firmly established ground.


Dr. Richard T. F. Schmidt, Past President, A.C.O.G., Professor of Ob/Gyn, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Dr. Vincent Collins, Professor of Anesthesiology, Northwestern University, University of Illinois Medical Center

Dr. John G. Masterson, Clinical Professor of Ob/Gyn, Northwestern University

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, F.A.C.O.G., Clinical Assistant Professor of Ob/Gyn, Cornell University

Dr. Denis Cavanaugh, F.A.C.O.G., Professor of Ob/Gyn, University of South Florida

Dr. Watson Bowes, F.A.C.O.G., Professor of Material and Fetal Medicine, University of North Carolina

Dr. Byron Oberst, Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Nebraska

Dr. Eugene Diamond, Professor of Pediatrics, Strict School of Medicine, Chicago, IL

Dr. Thomas Potter, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, New Jersey Medical College

Dr. Lawrence Dunegan, Instructor of Clinical Pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh

Dr. Melvin Thornton, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, University of Texas (San Antonio)

Dr. Norman Vernig, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota (St. Paul)

Dr. Jerome Shen, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, St. Louis University

Dr. Fred Hofmeister, Past President, A.C.O.G., Professor of Ob/Gyn, University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee)

Dr. Matthew Bulfin, F.A.C.O.G., Lauderdale by the Sea, FL

Dr. Jay Arena, Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics, Duke University

Dr. Herbert Nakata, Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, University of Hawaii

Dr. Robert Polley, Clinical Instructor of Pediatrics, University of Washington (Seattle)

Dr. David Foley, Professor of Ob/Gyn, University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee)

Dr. Anne Bannon, F.A.A.P., Former Chief of Pediatrics, CityHospital (St. Louis)

Dr. John J. Brennan, Professor of Ob/Gyn, Medical College of Wisconsin, (Milwaukee)

Dr. Walter F. Watts, Assistant Professor of Ob/Gyn, Strict School of Medicine, Chicago, IL

Dr. G. C. Tom Nabors, Assistant Clinical Professor of Ob/Gyn, Southwestern Medical College, Dallas, TX

Dr. Konald Prem, Professor of Ob/Gyn, University of Minnesota (Minneapolis)

Dr. Alfred Derby, F.A.C.O.G., Spokane, WA

Dr. Bernie Pisani, F.A.C.O.G., President, NY State Medical Society, Professor of Ob/Gyn, New York University