The question of when life begins is not an issue of theology or philosophy; it can easily be answered by elementary biology. For more than a century medical science has known conclusively that every individual's life begins at conception.

From the time of conception, the unborn child bears the undeniable stamp of a separate, distinct human being, structurally and totally different from his/her mother with his/her own blood system, nervous system and genetic code.

Fetology, the study of the unborn child or fetus, has become one of the fastest growing and most promising fields in medicine. New techniques and sophisticated instruments have given us a view into the previously hidden world of the unborn child. We can watch the child developing, moving, touching and responding. When ill, in some cases the unborn child has been diagnosed, treated and cured.


  • Conception - when the sperm and ovum unite in fertilization, genetic makeup is complete and a unique individual comes into existence. ("Conception--the start of a baby." See page 35 in brochure Coming to Life, Medical Services Branch, National Health and Welfare, Supply and Service Canada, 1987.)
  • 18 days - the heartbeat can be detected.
  • 30 days - foundations of brain, spinal cord, nerves and sense organs are complete; the new human being has eyes, ears, a mouth, kidneys, a liver and blood circulation; the mother may not yet know she is pregnant.
  • 43 days - brain waves can be detected
  • 6 weeks - nerves and muscles begin working together; the skeleton is fully formed but made of cartilage; lips become sensitive to touch.
  • 7 weeks - all internal organs are present; stomach produces digestive juices; liver manufactures red blood cells
  • 8 weeks - lines of the hands develop and will remain a distinctive feature of the individual throughout life.
  • 8 1/2 weeks - the child squints; the fingers close into a fist if palm is touched.
  • 10 weeks - thyroid and adrenal glands function.
  • 12 weeks - the child kicks, turns his feet and curls and fans his toes; swallows and drinks amniotic fluid; inhales and exhales; sucks his thumb.
  • 16-20 weeks - hair grows on head; eyebrows and eyelashes appear; the child sleeps and wakes; he can be aroused from sleep by external noises. As the basic structure of the human being has been in place for some time, all that the unborn child now needs is time to grow.

Supporting References

"A new individual is created when the elements of a potent sperm merge with those of a fertile ovum, or egg." 
Article on "Pregnancy," page 968, 15th Edition, Encyclopedia Brittanica, Chicago, 1974.

"Development begins at fertilization when a sperm fuses with an ovum to form a zygote; this cell is the beginning of a new human being."
Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human Clinicallv Oriented Embryologv, page 1 2, W.B. Sauders, 1974.

"It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoa and the resulting mingling of the nuclear material each brings to the union that constitutes the culmination of the process of fertilization and marks the initiation of the life of a new individual."
Bradley M. Patten, Human Embrvoloav page 43, - McGraw Hill, New York, 1968.


"... with the advent of realtime ultrasound in 1976 obstetricians abandoned the trimester concept as a crude and unscientific antique and began to describe pregnancy in the more precise language of weeks..."

"Viability is a pathetically unreliable criterion for protection of a human being under the law; there are so many variables and it is so poorly defined that it is all but useless."
Bernard Nathanson, M.D., Bernadell Technical Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 1, October 1989, page 1-3, Bernadell Inc., P.O. Box 1897, New York, NY 10011.

"Society and religion, over the centuries, have had differing views on the mores of aborting, of killing an unborn child. Let us not be afraid of the vocabulary."
Hon. Barbara McDougall, Hansard, P. 1 8080, July, 1988

"There is no Bar Mitzvah in the womb."
Bernard Nathanson, M.D.

 Action Life Online Article

By Paul Ranalli, M.D.

Judge Casey had obviously done his homework, for his Memorandum and Order denying the pro-abortion motion itemized several categories of research evidence supporting the conclusion that the fetus feels pain by 20 weeks gestation, a fact well known to readers of NRL News over the past few years.

Since partial-birth abortion is usually done after 20 weeks (4-1/2 months), fetal pain testimony is not only highly relevant but likely to be quite damaging to the pro-abortion cause. Indeed, the testimony on fetal pain awareness is likely not only to harden the disgust felt by most Americans for PBA, but threatens to rip the cover off their denial that there is solid research pointing to fetal pain awareness even before 20 weeks.

The evidence on fetal pain perception has been building for the past 20 years. Pain receptors first appear in the skin of an unborn baby's face at just eight weeks gestation and have gradually covered the body several weeks later. Pain signals are sent from the receptors back along nerves to the spinal cord and then up to the brain's pain relay station, the thalamus, a connection that is fully wired by 14 weeks.
The final connection from the deeply located thalamus up to the cerebral cortex on the brain's surface (where the baby is made aware of pain) is fully wired by 20 weeks. This is the time in pregnancy-the exact half-way point-when scientists have solid evidence of a fully-connected pain system.

While critics have contended that a fetus at this stage does not possess the consciousness necessary to be aware of pain, at 20 weeks the fetus has the full complement of neurons present in adulthood. Brain waves can be recorded at 20 weeks by a standard electroencephalogram (EEG). These findings were reviewed in Dr. K.S. Anand's landmark 1987 article, "Pain and its effects on the human neonate and fetus," in the New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Anand is the world's foremost authority on research into pain perception in the fetus and newborn child.

And the unborn might feel pain even earlier. It has been known since the late 1980s that blood circulation in the fetal brain changes in response to pain (just as it does in an adult) as early as 16 weeks gestation.

Then a 1994 British study startled the world with its finding that a painful procedure performed on an unborn baby as young as 18 weeks triggers a massive release of stress-related hormones-just as it does in an adult. Dr. Vivette Glover, an English fetal pain researcher, told the BBC in 2000 that "between 17 and 26 weeks it is increasingly possible that [the unborn] starts to feel something ... I think the evidence is that the system is starting to form by 20 weeks, maybe by 17 weeks." The latest research has focused on internal pain chemicals called Enkephlin and Substance P, which have been detected in the fetal brain at 13 and 11 weeks, respectively.

Judge Richard Casey of the Southern District of New York touched upon many of these details in the Order to dismiss the ACLU/National Abortion Federation (NAF) motion challenging the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act in the U.S. He also mentions research pointing out that the second-trimester fetus not only feels pain but feels more pain than a full-term newborn, or an adult. He states, "At twenty to thirty weeks of gestation, a fetus has the highest density of pain receptors per square inch in human development."

A particularly weak aspect of the motion to forbid Dr. Anand's testimony was the attempt to categorize his evidence as insufficiently reliable. Judge Casey reviewed Dr. Anand's career as a Harvard and Oxford-trained Rhodes scholar whose "opinion on fetal pain is the product of his more than twenty years of work in the field and has not been prepared solely for this case." Judge Casey pointed out that Dr. Anand's work has been published in reputable scientific journals and publications, including numerous peer-reviewed journals. The American abortion establishment is fighting a losing rearguard action on this subject. Their abortion-performing colleagues in Britain and France have already thrown in the towel on fetal pain, acknowledging its likelihood in many second-trimester abortions. England's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists first broached the subject with a Working Paper in 1997 that was conservative in its estimate of likely fetal pain at 24 weeks gestation. The Working Paper suggested that if abortions were to be done at this stage or beyond the least that could be done was to consider giving anaesthesia specifically for the doomed fetus.

By 1999 this had been updated in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology with the following statement: "Given the anatomical evidence, it is possible that the fetus can feel pain from 20 weeks and is caused distress by interventions from as early as 15 or 16 weeks."

If the average decent American citizen is repulsed by the thought of the excruciating pain an unborn baby must feel as the back of its skull is stabbed and pried open in a partial-birth abortion, what about the other methods performed on pain-sensitive unborn babies at, or just before, the same stage of gestation?

It does not take a medical expert to imagine the horror of suffocation (hysterotomy and extraction), scalding (saline induction), or being carved apart (dilation and curettage or dilation and extraction) with the full capacity to feel every final moment.

Dr. Ranalli is a neurologist at the University of Toronto and an advisory board member of the deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research.

This article reprinted in Action Life News 2005, with the author's permission.

fig17Given the medical evidence that unborn babies experience pain, compassionate people are viewing abortion more and more as an inhumane act of violence against an unborn child. The pain can be verified by 20 weeks gestation, the age of this unborn child.

The evidence of fetal pain

With the advent of sonograms and live-action ultrasound images, neonatologists and nurses are able to see unborn babies at 20 weeks gestation react physically to outside stimuli such as sound, light and touch. The sense of touch is so acute that even a single human hair drawn across an unborn child's palm causes the baby to make a fist.

  • Surgeons entering the womb to perform corrective procedures on tiny unborn children have seen those babies flinch, jerk and recoil from sharp objects and incisions.
  • "The neural pathways are present for pain to be experienced quite early by unborn babies."

Steven Calvin, M.D., perinatologist, chair of the Program in Human Rights Medicine, University of Minnesota, where he teaches obstetrics

The evidence of fetal pain

With the advent of sonograms and live-action ultrasound images, neonatologists and nurses are able to see unborn babies at 20 weeks gestation react physically to outside stimuli such as sound, light and touch. The sense of touch is so acute that even a single human hair drawn across an unborn child's palm causes the baby to make a fist.

  • Surgeons entering the womb to perform corrective procedures on tiny unborn children have seen those babies flinch, jerk and recoil from sharp objects and incisions.
  • "The neural pathways are present for pain to be experienced quite early by unborn babies."

Steven Calvin, M.D., perinatologist, chair of the Program in Human Rights Medicine, University of Minnesota, where he teaches obstetrics

Medical facts of fetal pain

Anatomical studies have documented that the body's pain network - the spino-thalamic pathway - is established by 20 weeks gestation.

  • "At 20 weeks, the fetal brain has the full complement of brain cells present in adulthood, ready and waiting to receive pain signals from the body, and their electrical activity can be recorded by standard electroencephalography (EEG)."

Dr. Paul Ranalli, neurologist, University of Toronto

  • An unborn child at 20 weeks gestation "is fully capable of experiencing pain. ... Without question, [abortion] is a dreadfully painful experience for any infant subjected to such a surgical procedure."

Robert J. White, M.D., PhD., professor of neurosurgery, Case Western University

Unborn babies have heightened sensitivities

Unborn children at 20 weeks development actually feel pain more intensely than adults. This is a "uniquely vulnerable time, since the pain system is fully established, yet the higher level pain-modifying system has barely begun to develop."

Dr. Paul Ranalli, neurologist, University of Toronto

  • "Having administered anesthesia for fetal surgery, I know that on occasion we need to administer anesthesia directly to the fetus, because even at these early gestational ages the fetus moves away from the pain of the stimulation."

David Birnbach, M.D., president of the Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology and self-described as "pro-choice," in testimony before the U.S. Congress


The unborn child at 20 weeks

Fetal development is already quite advanced at 20 weeks gestation:

  • The skeleton is complete and reflexes are present at 42 days.
  • Electrical brain wave patterns can be recorded at 43 days. This is usually ample evidence that "thinking" is taking place in the brain.
  • The fetus has the appearance of a miniature baby, with complete fingers, toes and ears at 49 days.
  • All organs are functioning - stomach, liver, kidney, brain - and all systems are intact at 56 days.
  • By 20 weeks, the unborn child has hair and working vocal cords, sucks her thumb, grasps with her hands and kicks. She measures 12 inches.

Abortion at 20 weeks

Despite the unborn child's advanced development at 20 weeks, the following painful abortion procedures are used:

  • Partial-birth abortion (D&X): The unborn baby is delivered feet first, except for the head, which is punctured at the base of the skull with a sharp object. The brain is then suctioned out, killing the child.
  • Dilation and Evacuation (D&E): Sharp-edged instruments are used to grasp, twist and tear the baby's body into pieces, which are removed from the womb.
  • Saline instillation: Salt water is injected into the womb through the mother's abdomen. The unborn baby swallows this fluid, is poisoned and dies in a process that sometimes takes 24 hours. The toxic saline solution causes severe burns over the unborn child's entire body.

Reprinted with permission from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, 2006.

By William L. Saunders, Jr.

blastocystIn the ongoing debate about cloning human embryos for research, and about destroying them in order to harvest their stem cells, it is important to keep some basic facts in mind. Our moral analysis must be built upon fundamental scientific truths. If we obscure the facts, then we will not think clearly or act responsibly about these issues.

Every human being begins as a single-cell zygote, grows through the embryonic stage, then the fetal stage, is born and develops through infancy, through childhood, and through adulthood, until death. Each human being is genetically the same human being at every stage, despite changes in his or her appearance.

Embryologists are united on this point. Consider the following statements from standard textbooks: "Human development begins at fertilization.... This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual" (Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud); "Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote).... The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual" (Bruce M. Carlson); "Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.... The embryo now exists as a genetic unity" (Ronan O'Rahilly and Faiola Muller).
Normally, the embryo comes into being through sexual conception, in which the female egg cell is fertilized by a male sperm cell. In sexual reproduction the new individual gets half of its chromosomes from the nucleus of the sperm cell and half from the nucleus of the egg cell. The new organism thus produced is genetically distinct from all other human beings and has embarked upon its own distinctive development.

In addition to this normal process, we have developed laboratory techniques with which to manipulate the procreation of new human organisms. One of these techniques stages the encounter of sperm with egg in a laboratory dish rather than in a woman's body. This is in vitro fertilization (IVF). Another technique is an asexual one in which no sperm is involved. Instead, an egg has its nucleus removed and replaced by a nucleus from another type of cell-a body cell. The egg is then stimulated by an electrical charge, creating a living human zygote. This is cloning, a process in which the body cell that donated the replacement nucleus supplies the chromosomes of the new human organism.

Whether the new organism is produced by fertilization or by cloning, each new human organism is a distinct entity. Twins are genetic duplicates of each other, but no one would deny that each is a distinct human individual. Similarly, a clone would be a genetic duplicate of another human being, but there is no denying that it would also be a separate individual.

 From its first moment, supplied with its complete set of chromosomes, each new zygote directs its own integral functioning and development. It proceeds, unless death intervenes, through every stage of human development until one day it reaches the adult stage. It will grow and it will develop and it will change its appearance, but it will never undergo a change in its basic nature. It will never grow up to be a cow or a fish. It is a human being from the first moment of its existence. As Paul Ramsey has noted, "The embryo's subsequent development may be described as a process of becoming what he already is from the moment of conception."

image-096These are the facts, which we can either affirm or deny. Unfortunately, the denial of inconvenient facts has become quite common during the past several decades. Consider, for example, an editorial published in the September 1970 issue of California Medicine, which was then the journal of the California Medical Association. The editorial invited the Association's members to play a new game called "semantic gymnastics." The first rule of the game was the "avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death." The goal was to replace "the traditional Western ethic" respecting "the intrinsic worth and equal value of every human life regardless of its state or condition" with "a new ethic for medicine and society" in order "to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing."

In subsequent years, the dehumanization of the unborn was taken a step further when the concept of the "pre-embryo" was advanced. The term referred to the embryo before its implantation in the womb. Certainly the embryo at this point is "pre-implantation," and certainly implantation is a highly significant event. If the embryo does not implant, it will die; if it implants, it will receive nutrition and a suitable environment in which to live, grow, and develop. (Every human being at every stage of life similarly requires nutrition and a suitable environment.) But the critical question is: Does implantation effect a change in the nature of the thing that implants? It is clear from basic facts of embryology that it does not. In the 2001 edition of his leading textbook on embryology, Ronan O'Rahilly writes, "The term ‘pre-embryo' is not used here [because] ... it may convey the erroneous idea that a new human organism is formed only at some considerable time after fertilization. [The term] was introduced in 1986 largely for public policy reasons."

For what public policy reasons was the term "pre-embryo" invented? Princeton biology professor Lee Silver, a noted advocate of all the new biotechnologies, supplies the answer in his Remaking Eden (1997):
I'll let you in on a secret. The term pre-embryo has been embraced wholeheartedly by IVF practitioners for reasons that are political, not scientific. The new term is used to provide the illusion that there is something profoundly different between a six-day-old embryo and a sixteen-day-old embryo. The term is useful in the political arena-where decisions are made about whether to allow early embryo experimentation-as well as in the confines of a doctor's office where it can be used to allay moral concerns that might be expressed by IVF patients.

As Gilbert Meilaender has noted, the "pre-embryo" is merely the unimplanted embryo. In other words, it is already an embryo, and all embryos are, at first, unimplanted. An embryo subsequently implants unless something (or someone) interferes or the embryo is defective. Its life is continuous from its first moment (whether through fertilization or through cloning) until death. The term "pre-embryo" was developed and used largely, if not exclusively, to mislead: to hide scientific facts about the beginnings and unity of human life; to bolster support for a new reproductive technology; and to obtain funding for experiments on human embryos. It has led to a confused jurisprudence that treats the embryo, in certain contexts, more like property than like a human being.

Though the term "pre-embryo" has been rejected in science, the motive for its creation-to dehumanize the early embryo in order to justify its destruction-lives on. It is part of the debate over human cloning and human embryonic stem-cell research.

In the cloning debate, the attempt to deny what "everyone really knows" by finding a more accommodating language has been so convoluted that it would be amusing if lives were not at stake. First, proponents of cloning tried to deny that cloning creates a human embryo. Since, they argued, the new entity does not result from sexual reproduction, it could not be an "embryo." For reasons I have indicated (the nature of the product of cloning as a living, genetically complete, unified, self-integrating human organism in the first stage of development) few were taken in by that ploy. Even prominent advocates of embryonic stem cell research, such as John Gearhart of Johns Hopkins University, have acknowledged that the "thing" created by cloning is an embryo.
Some have asserted that the location of the thing in a Petri dish or in an IVF clinic (i.e., outside a woman's womb) means it is not an embryo. They assert that since it will never be implanted in a womb, it can never be a human being. On the Frequently Asked Questions page of the website of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology we are told that "the cells resulting from nuclear transplantation are grown in a culture dish in the presence of special nutrients for only a few days, when they will comprise a cluster of about 120 cells that can be used to derive stem cells. Therefore, because the cells are never transferred to a uterus they cannot develop into a human being on their own."

The question-begging nature of this assertion should be evident: if the cells are "never transferred to a uterus," it is because the people in the lab choose not to transfer them. It is disingenuous for those who would deprive the embryo of the chance to be born to claim that their action changes the nature and status of the thing considered. This is like the Nazis claiming that concentration camp inmates are not human beings because the Nazis intend to destroy them during lethal experiments. The argument is a variation on the theme of "potentiality"-since the "cluster of cells" lacks the potential to be born, it is not a human being. But the fact is that every human being, including every embryo, is full of inherent potential by virtue of being human. That potential may never be realized or it may be impeded in particular cases. But that potential-to live, to grow, and to develop-is part of what it means to be a living human being.

The advocates of cloning have also posited a distinction between "reproductive cloning" and "therapeutic cloning." Reproductive cloning, we are told, would see the clonal zygote transferred to a uterus and would, all other things being equal, result in the eventual birth of a human being. (This is a scenario that many people fear.) Therapeutic cloning, we are assured, would never approach anything like reproduction: the clonal zygote is simply kept in the lab, an innocuous cluster of cells to be put to good scientific use. But this distinction is groundless. Once a living human zygote has been created, "reproduction" of a member of the human species has occurred, regardless of the purpose (birth or experiment) for which the clone was created. Thus, all human cloning is reproductive cloning.

Nor can the label "therapeutic" be properly applied to the cloning of a human being for the purpose of harvesting "its" useful parts and disposing of the remainder. For a procedure to be "therapeutic," it must be so for the subject of the procedure. (To drain me of my blood in order to stock a blood bank may eventuate in some therapeutic results for someone, but it is not therapeutic for me.) Medical ethics have always insisted that there be greater protection for the subject when the subject is not himself benefited by the procedure. Yet "therapeutic cloning" kills the subject (the embryo) every time (in order to get stem cells). The fact that the distinction between therapeutic and nontherapeutic procedures is so well established, with greater protection accorded subjects in nontherapeutic experiments, makes the decision of cloning proponents to use the term "therapeutic" even more troubling.

After opinion polls revealed that Americans did not like any kind of "cloning," whatever the adjectival modifier, cloning proponents took a bold gamble-they simply decided to re-name the procedure. Instead of "cloning," it would now be called "somatic cell nuclear transfer" or "nuclear transplantation to produce stem cells." But both phrases are simply definitions of cloning. Cloning is a laboratory procedure in which the nucleus from a somatic (body) cell is transferred or transplanted into an egg cell from which the original nucleus has been removed. The attempt to use five long words instead of one short one and to pretend that the five words denote something different is linguistic mischief, not science. Worse, with the phrase "nuclear transplantation to produce stem cells," cloning advocates seek to obscure a crucial fact: the procedure does not "produce stem cells"; it produces an embryo which is later killed so that its stem cells can be removed. Whatever the purpose of any act of embryo-creation may be, whether eventual birth or eventual disaggregation, it is a human embryo and thus a human being that is being produced and killed.

Human stem cells have indeed proven to have great value in the invention of new medical treatments, though it is significant that the only treatments developed to date have involved stem cells acquired nondestructively from nonembryonic sources, including adult donors. Therapies involving the use of adult stem cells are already numerous, whereas therapies derived from embryonic stem cells are still only theoretical (see, for example, Maureen L. Condic's "Stems Cells and False Hopes," FT August/September 2002). Wesley J. Smith has called the media coverage of advances in adult-stem-cell regenerative therapies "grudging," and notes that the favored theme in much media coverage is that embryos hold the key to the future.

Nonetheless, the public is becoming aware that stem cells can be obtained, nondestructively, from adults. And we are also becoming aware that the harvesting of stem cells from embryos cannot be accomplished without causing those embryos to cease to exist as organisms-that is, without killing them. My hope is that we come to understand clearly that it is a matter of scientific fact, and not of opinion, that the embryonic organisms we are being urged to exploit and discard are, like us, human beings.

William L. Saunders is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Human Life and Bioethics in Washington D.C. Material in this essay is adapted from a chapter in Human Dignity in the Biotech Century (InterVarsity). 

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By Dr. Paul Ranalli, M.D.

image-097Evidence that newborn babies are not only capable of feeling pain, but may possess a short-term "pain memory," will likely add fuel to the upcoming firestorm over the practice of late-term abortion, particularly partial-birth abortion.


In the new study, published in the August 21 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), by pediatric pain experts at the Hospital for Sick Children at the University of Toronto, the pain response of newborn babies of diabetic mothers were compared with babies born of non-diabetic mothers.

When a diabetic mother gives birth, her baby's blood sugar is monitored closely over the first 24 hours.  Blood is drawn by the standard "heel lance" method, in which the baby's heel is first cleaned with a swipe from an alcohol swab, then is jabbed with a sharp metal instrument just above the heel, to express a few drops of blood. The heel is lanced one hour after birth, then every 2 to 4 hours afterward, throughout the baby's first day.

After 24 hours, all 42 babies (of both diabetic and non-diabetic mothers) undergo a venipuncture, in which a small needle is inserted into a vein on the back of a hand, to collect blood for a number of routine newborn tests. The pain experts observed and measured the pain response of the babies during the venipuncture, noting the degree of crying, facial grimacing, and body movement.

The result:  the maternal-diabetic babies, who had undergone several painful heel lances over the preceding 24 hours, displayed a larger pain response than babies of non-diabetic mothers, who were being punctured for the first time.

image-098More astonishing yet, 22 percent of the maternal-diabetic babies began to grimace before the puncture, during the preparatory skin cleaning. None of the other babies displayed this anticipatory response.  Dr. Anne Taddio and her colleagues postulated that the skin cleaning had become a sort of conditioned stimulus, and concluded, "These data provide further evidence that infant pain is modulated by experience with pain, as in children and adults."

That newborn babies feel pain is not news to those who have paid attention to pain research over the past one-and-a-half decades. However, until the mid-1980s, newborns were simply assumed not to feel pain, or to perceive it only minimally.  In what is now universally regarded as an erroneously barbaric practice, major surgery used to be performed on newborn babies with little or no anaesthesia.

By 1987, these assumptions were demolished by a growing body of evidence best summarized in a seminal article by pain authority Dr. K.J. Anand, who reviewed the data which measured the changes in heart rate, blood pressure, breathing pattern, and stress hormone secretion in infants suffering pain.

When infants were given proper relief during surgery, not only did these physiological responses settle down, but more babies survived major surgery. Furthermore, several lines of evidence began to reveal that babies born prematurely are even more acutely sensitive to pain than full-term newborns.

What is truly new about this latest study is the revelation of just how sophisticated the newborn baby's brain is, in its ability to register the experience of pain and file it away in a short-term pain memory.  And not just the pain itself, but a memory of heightened awareness of sensations surrounding the pain experience, in this case, the wet stroke of the preceding alcohol swab across the skin. This suggests the oft-reported vivid memory adults describe of sensations associated with a traumatic experience, such as pain, fear, or assault - - a clear memory of an ordinary visual scene, a smell, a sensation. In this case, day-old newborn babies were able to link the subtle sensation of having their heel wiped by an alcohol swab with an anticipated jab of pain.

One of the arguments raised against the significance of data demonstrating fetal pain is that the unborn do not possess adequate enough cerebral cortical development to really "feel" pain beyond a reflex level, and certainly do not have the ability to feel pain in context, compare it with earlier experiences, to have enough brain power to truly experience suffering at a conscious level.

Certainly this is true at an early enough stage in fetal development.  But this current study suggests that a newborn's power of pain perception is highly advanced at day one, including, presumably, premature babies. The question is:  how far back in fetal development does this pain awareness go?

We know from anatomical studies that the entire pain pathway system (the spino-thalamic tract) is assembled by 20 weeks' gestation. Stress hormone release from fetuses has been recorded at 18 weeks, and changes in fetal brain circulation in response to pain have been observed at 16 weeks. At 20 weeks, the fetal brain has the full complement of brain cells present in adulthood, and brain wave recordings are detectable at 19 weeks.

In testimony to Congress in 1995, U.S. pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Robert White stated, "In summary, then, the fetus within this time frame of gestation, 20 weeks and beyond, is fully capable of experiencing pain."

Since premature newborns are viable, and visibly sensitive to pain, from 23 weeks' gestation onward, the pain system is clearly operating at this stage. Partial-birth abortions target the unborn from 20-26 weeks' gestation.

More recent concepts of pain perception point to the importance of brain chemicals "Substance P" and "enkephalin," which are detectable in the fetal brain at 11 weeks and 13 weeks, respectively. Even among abortion-performing physicians in England and France, a consensus is building that consideration should be given to administer analgesia specifically for the fetus in late-term abortions.

This latest study on newborn pain perception and pain memory draws sharper attention to the awful reality, still too successfully denied by abortion advocates, of the suffering experienced by near-born infants in late-term abortions.  They know that people would be horrified if the truth be known.  No wonder they must deny it.

Reprinted with permission from the author. 2004

Pain Experience of a Fetus Might Be Even Worse Than Adult Pain
By Elaine Zettel

The politics of abortion have distorted the science of fetal pain.  The distortion is so drastic that it may come into conflict with modern pediatric medicine.  On October 1st Dr. Paul Ranalli, neurologist and University of Toronto Lecturer, explained these findings to a gathering of 100 people at the deVeber Institute’s annual public lecture at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto.It was only 25 years ago that pediatric medicine failed to recognize the pain of newborn babies, and procedures were performed on these babies without any anaesthesia.  Since that time, our understanding of babies’ pain has drastically increased, and as a result babies in the neonatal intensive care unit now receive much better care including pain relief. Furthermore, Dr Ranalli showed that research has found that the ability to feel pain begins long before birth.“An unborn child is likely capable of feeling pain from the middle point of pregnancy,” Dr. Ranalli said.  New understandings and evidence accumulated over the past two decades show that by the 20th week of gestation, the fetus possesses everything necessary to feel pain.  However, the systems that help adults inhibit pain are not developed until well after this time period.  Therefore it is possible that the fetus may be experiencing extreme pain during an abortion without the internal coping mechanisms that we take for granted.Evidence of fetal pain exists in three main areas: anatomical, physiological, and behavioural.  Anatomically, the brain, nerves and pain receptors develop throughout the early part of pregnancy.  The parts of the nervous system are connected and operational by the 20th week.  Physiologically, there is evidence of a hormonal stress response to pain beginning at 18 weeks gestation.  Behaviourally, the fetus has been observed to make movements in response to touch and to respond to sound by 20 weeks gestation or earlier.  Each of these pieces of evidence combined to make a very strong case for fetal pain.Moreover, Dr. Ranalli pointed out that research reviews and guidelines from abortion providers in the United Kingdom and France have called for separate anaesthesia to be given to the fetus to protect it from pain during second trimester abortions.  Some abortionists there have recognized the very valid evidence of fetal pain.In North America, however, there is much denial of the subject, according to Dr. Ranalli.  A review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2005 purported to claim that a fetus could not feel pain until 29 weeks.  The report was criticized for potential bias when two of its authors were found to have links to abortion practice, including the lead author, a former advocate for the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL).  Distortion of the science was obvious to Dr. Ranalli, who pointed out that the article’s conclusions relied on a study that had not even tested the potential of fetuses to feel pain before 26 weeks.  By ignoring a large body of evidence on fetal pain, this article came to a false conclusion.The report’s conclusion would imply that premature babies born from the time of viability, currently 23 weeks, would be unable to feel pain for the first 6 weeks of their lives, a concept that was abandoned as barbaric over 20 years ago. Nevertheless, the article continues to be cited by many as authoritative, a practice Dr. Ranalli believes is intended to provide moral cover for abortion providers.  Dr. Ranalli described the article’s conclusions as “so ghastly, the effect would be to set back the humane modern practice of child-centered pediatric medicine 20 years.”To summarize, Dr. Ranalli demonstrated with ample evidence that the fetus can feel pain by 20 weeks gestation, and possibly earlier.  This has been recognized by pain experts in North America and Europe, and even by some abortion providers.  However, some continue to deny the evidence of fetal pain, despite obvious inconsistencies with modern medical practice. Elaine Zetel is the Executive Director of The deVeber Institute, an independent Toronto-based research Institute, which carries out interdisciplinary research in bioethical issues.  Dr. Ranalli is an Advisory Council member of the Institute.

In a recent presentation at the St. Thomas More Society banquet in Ottawa, Dr. Margaret Somerville, head of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, said the rapid development in new reproductive technologies requires a slow-down of the pace to consider the following questions: How are ethics and law interacting and where are we going?

We have a power no previous generation has ever possessed, the power to intervene and alter the essence of human life. In some ways, scientists have taken over something that previously belonged to God and it  forces us to rethink how we think about life, Dr. Somerville said. These new technologies, in particular research on human cloning, open up the possibility of designing humans. That potential  demands that we ask critical questions: What must we not do with our new science? Are some of the possibilities opening up inherently wrong?

If the techniques involved are inherently wrong, then we must not do them, she stated, no matter how much good might result. We tend to overemphasize the benefits of technological advances, and underestimate the negative outcomes. 

Dr. Somerville explained the two types of cloning research, reproductive and therapeutic. Reproductive cloning  attempts to reproduce a child identical to the cell donor. Therapeutic cloning attempts to clone a cell and manipulate the clone to differentiate and produce organs for transplantation.

Human therapeutic cloning involves intentional destruction of human life, Dr. Somerville stated. Both lines of research rely on the use of human embryos in the very early stages of development, which has led to the intense, ongoing debate on the moral status of human embryos. Opponents of the research say  the human embryo has the same moral status as any human person. Those who support the research argue that the embryo has special moral status, but not yet the same status as the rest of us.

Dr. Somerville mentioned Professor Peter Singer, bioethicist at Princeton University, who claims that any entity that does not have a sense of self-awareness or of its history, such as a newborn baby, does not have the same human status as a fully self-aware human being.

To alleviate ethical concerns over the research and make the technology more acceptable, cloning advocates have manipulated the language to try and overcome ethical difficulties. The human embryo at the very beginning of development is called a "pre-embryo" or referred to as "human embryonic stem cells."

"If a stem cell is not an embryo, do prohibitions on embryo research apply?" Dr. Somerville asked.

Therapeutic cloning opens up the possibility of genetic enhancement and dis-enhancement--gene-rich people and gene-poor people. It commodifies human embryos and shows disrespect for the transmission of human life. As well, cloning is asexual reproduction, which damages the dignity and meaning of human sexuality.

In closing, Dr. Somerville said we need to do "science in ethics time rather than ethics in science time." Science time is immediate. It wants everything done now, as quickly as possible. However, we cannot formulate community ethics with the same degree of speed. She suggested that we rely on the core value of respect for life, and in particular for human life, and that we act to promote and protect the human spirit.

The new reproductive technologies and cloning show a profound disregard for the dignity of human life.The technology relies on the manipulation and destruction of multiple embryos. Cloning modifies the very nature of human beings and undermines the meaning of life itself. These new interventions reduce human beings to laboratory objects to be manipulated and then discarded.  

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What is in-vitro fertilization? 

It is a medical technique used to artificially facilitate the conception of a baby. Its name is derived from the fact that fertilization takes place in a petri dish, a glass laboratory container, instead of inside the woman's body.

How is the procedure carried out?

After the woman has been given fertility hormones to encourage the maturation of several eggs (ova) at one time, doctors remove egg cells from her ovary at the exact moment in her monthly cycle when they have reached maturity. The egg cells are placed in a nutrient rich petri dish and the sperm is added to this mixture.

When fertilization occurs, the fertilized eggs divide, creating a cluster of cells called a blastocyst-the genetic package of a new unique individual. Scientists test these blastocysts to determine suitability. The unsuitable ones are destroyed, while the ones who have been permitted to live are inserted via a tube through the woman's cervix into the uterus, which has been treated by hormones to prepare its lining to receive the fertilized eggs. If this is a successful IVF attempt, at least one fertilized egg will implant into the wall of the uterus and start to grow.

What happens to the rest of the embryos?

  • Many embryos die in the transfer process since they are fragile.
  • Some embryos are unwanted and eliminated because they are considered genetically inadequate.
  • Some embryos are stored alive in freezers.
  • Some embryos will die during the thawing process.

How many human embryos are lost in IVF?

The Jones Institute, one of the pioneers of In Vitro Fertilization, reports that only 10 to 20% of the human embryos produced by IVF ever result in a normal pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control estimated that in 1998, 28,000 babies were born through IVF in the United States. This means that 140,000 - 280,000 human embryos remained "unused" for that year alone. Recent regulations have been introduced in Canada regarding IVF; however, these are not protective or respectful of the life of children manufactured by this process.

Why is this wrong?

It is a scientific fact that human life begins at conception/fertilization. From the moment of fertilization, a human embryo has a complete genetic code and his or her growth and development is totally coordinated from within.

Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of cnoception. From the first moment of its existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person. Wehn this fundamental moral line is violated or obscured, categories of people become devalued and they become easily used for utilitarian purposes.

Is IVF successful? 

The success rate of IVF treatment is low--72 percent of women who undergo IVF treatments will fail to conceive a child and/or carry it to live birth, according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. 

The CDC  report on Artificial Reproductive Technology success rates for 2004 showed that only 28.7 percent of ART cycles resulted in a live birth--an ART cycle includes all fertility treatments in which both eggs and sperm are handled.

What are the risks for women? 

Because IVF is an experimental procedure, its risks to women are being discovered slowly.

What are the medical risks of drugs used to stimulate the ovaries to produce eggs? One drug, a hormone called buserelin, is suspected of causing cancer. Could it do so in these women?

A common side effect of the hormones used to increase egg production is the development of ovarian cysts. Clomid, the hormone drug most frequently used in IVF to stimulate egg production, has a chemical profile similar to that of DES. This latter drug, given to women in the 1950's and 1960's to prevent miscarriages, was later found to cause cancer in the women who used it and in their offspring.

Facilities have also been criticized for failing to warn couples about the high rate of multiple and premature births and caesarian deliveries associated with the technique. A 1985 Australian study found women who have used IVF to be about three times more likely than other mothers to give birth prematurely and 43% of their deliveries to be by Caesarian section. In the study, ectopic pregnancy rates for IVF were 5% and miscarriages 25% of total pregnancies, three times the national average. Ectopic pregnancies can be life threatening.

What are the risks to babies? 

The numerous manipulations in an unnatural environment that are involved during IVF present real dangers to the developing child. A high percentage of all sperm is thought to be defective, but a woman's cervix screens out the less fit. And distance ensures that only the sperm capable of the most movement will reach the egg. Both increase the chances that the egg will be fertilized by a healthy sperm. Both these screening processes are absent with lVF

To protect themselves from responsibility for the risks of IVF, doctors have contracts with their patients which allow for any "problem" baby to be aborted.

The hazards and risks imposed on the developing child are many and some are even beyond our current ability to comprehend. Analysis of all the Australian and New Zealand IVF births found that IVF is associated with a higher than normal rate of spina bifida and transposition of the great arteries. Six infants had spina bifida compared with an expected number of 1.2. No previous children with spina bifida had been born to these mothers. Four infants had transposition of the great vessels, compared with an expected number of 0.6.

 IVF babies were four times more likely to be stillborn than those conceived normally and to have rates of abnormalities three times that of the Australian national average.

Dr. Ruth Hubbard, professor of biology at Harvard, has condemned IVF as too risky. She compared such research to the precedents of thalidomide and diethyl stilbestrol. The consequences of thalidomide were visible at birth; the diethyl stilbestrol turned into a medical time bomb whose consequences were not seen for more than fifteen to twenty years. Both drugs altered the fetal environment in ways that could not be foreseen. How can we claim to know that the many chemical and mechanical manipulations of eggs, sperm, and embryos that take place during IVF and implantation are harmless?IVF makes babies.

Why are pro-life people opposed to it? 

  • Because IVF results in the death of many tiny humans. It is an attack on human life at its origin.
     Hundreds of fertilized eggs (tiny humans) fail to implant or are destroyed for every one child conceived.


  • Only promising embryos are selected. At most clinics no more than four embryos are implanted. What happens if there are more than four embryos? They are either frozen for future use (50% die in the freezing-thawing) or, in some cases, "surplus embryos" are used for experiments. This is in direct opposition to the post-World War II Helsinki Declaration which states that the interests of the subjects of medical experimentation must take precedence over the interests of science and society. Using living human embryos and fetuses for cell cultures and organ donors is already here. Gene splicing, cloning, creation of chimeras and "modifying embryos" are on the horizon.


  • IVF dehumanizes the child and its parents. IVF regards the embryo and developing baby as a product subject to quality control and manufactured to satisfy desire. Decisions are made about who will be allowed to survive. Humans are regarded as property.


  • IVF's purpose is not primarily to provide babies for infertile couples. Those who developed IVF and those who continue to push it appear to be primarily interested in experimentation on the embryos. Dr. C. Jansen of Sydney, Australia said that if experimentation on embryos is stopped, he will "stop the practice of IVF completely." The United States did ban embryo research in 1975. In Australia, the government permits research on "spare embryos" left over from IVF. A British commission allows research on embryos up to 14 days old, and scientists are pushing to extend the limit. The Medical Research Council of Canada has recommended experimentation on living human embryos up to 17 days of age, the most liberal guideline in the world

IVF opens the way to eugenic control.

IVF techniques make possible the sex determination of offspring and. In the sex-selecting application, the embryo of the desired sex is inserted into the uterus and the rest are destroyed as unneeded embryos. In the United States and Canada the eugenics movement talks of reproduction of the "right kind of people". Dr. Joseph Fletcher repeatedly calls for the sterilization of people carrying defective genes. Mr. Graham with his Nobel laureate sperm donors seeks "genetically sound women" to bear better citizens custom-made for intelligence... hopefully. Is the medical profession becoming tamperers with human life? Have we forgotten that at Nurenberg we condemned doctors for implementing eugenic policies?

Are there alternatives to IVF?

There are alternatives--less costly and more successful than I.V.F.--that HELP a woman with her infertility.

A moral and natural technique that is becoming more commonly known among Fertility Care practitioners is Natural Procreative Technolgy or NaPro Technology (NPT). Research indicates that this technique has as many or more live births than IVF clinics, without putting couples through the various humiliating treatments and without creating "extra" embryos that would ultimately die or be killed.

The carbon dioxide laser is consistently reported to be effective in cases of tubal obstruction considered inoperable or difficult by standard microsurgical techniques.

In one study, of 65 women with blocked fallopian tubes, 80% became pregnant following laser surgery. In another study of 230 patients with multiple disease processes contributing to infertility, 40% were able to get pregnant after laser microsurgery.

Remember that in 370 attempts at implantation, the experts at I.V.F., Drs. Steptoe and Edwards, engineered only two successful pregnancies. It is unknown how many unused embryos they "washed down the sink".  

In 230 difficult cases, laser surgery made it possible for 92 women to become pregnant. And they can become pregnant again if they desire for their infertility was CORRECTED. Unlike laser surgery, I.V.F. DOES NOT correct the infertility problem.

Also, reconstructive tubal surgery is more successful in achieving pregnancy than is I.V.F. for women who have undergone tubal sterilization (Ob. Gyn. News, Nov. 15-3Q 1987).

What a woman gets for her money and the trauma of I. V F. experimentation is the likelihood that she will remain childless and the certainty that she will remain infertile. Infertile couples should demand accountability from I.V.F. programs, especially at this time when our medical resources are scarce. An objective cost-benefit analysis of I.V.F. would recommend devoting our resources to the more efficient effective alternatives.


  1. A society which is truly interested in treating infertility will allocate resources to efficient, effective procedures rather than to the patently unsuccessful and costly experimental technique known as I.V.F.
  2. A caring society will provide sufficient funding to basic health care for its citizens and for those of the developing world rather than concentrate enormous scarce funds on experimentation that might "benefit" a few.

A truly caring society will not permit a technique which creates innocent life only to destroy it or to experiment on it.   Remember the words of C. S. Lewis: "what we call man's power over nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with nature as its instrument."

 (Mr. Graham, referred to in the above paragraph, is Robert Graham, founder of the Repository for Germinal Choice in Escondido, Calif. This sperm bank solicits donations from Nobel laureates and other intellectuals.)

Action Life Online Article

By Dr. L.L. deVeber 

We should look carefully at the case in Halifax where Dr. Nancy Morrison killed a terminally ill patient, Paul Mills, with an injection of potassium chloride. Dr. Morrison is a specialist in Respirology (lung diseases), who also worked in Intensive Care where Mr. Mills was transferred due to complications from his cancer and surgery. Potassium chloride in large doses has no place in the management of symptoms in patients, including those who are terminally ill. Dr. Morrison did this to end Mr. Mills "suffering" and, at first, denied doing "anything wrong". Apparently, Mr. Mills had been given "massive" doses of painkillers which apparently did not relieve his pain.

I could find no mention in the articles I read of a palliative care consultation and it is very likely that the so-called "massive" doses of narcotics simply weren't adequate. Also, since Mr. Mills could only communicate by blinking his eyes, we wonder who assessed his pain and how.

Another disturbing feature of the case includes the fact that his wife was not notified of the decision to end his life and, in fact, she said her husband did not believe in mercy killing. Thus, it appears that this was a case of active involuntary euthanasia/mercy killing.

Perhaps the most disturbing feature of this case is the lack of prosecution of Dr. Morrison with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court refusing to hear an appeal by the Crown Prosecutor to allow prosecution to proceed. The Provincial Court judge had previously refused to allow prosecution on the grounds that a jury would never convict her. Apparently, one reason for this decision was that the intravenous line in Mr. Mills may not have been functioning. However, he died within minutes of the fatal infection which means the i.v. line was almost certainly working.

Dr. Morrison was supported by the Provincial Medical Association, although the College of Physicians issued a written reprimand to her for acting "outside the bounds of currently acceptable practice" for using a drug with no pain killing properties to hasten death. She has resigned from the Intensive Care unit where Mr. Mills died but continues to practice and teach at the medical school where she is (or was) "highly respected". She now admits she made a mistake and should have consulted other physicians before her fatal action.

Of course this is not the first time a physician has killed a patient and not received significant punishment. In 1993, Dr. De La Rocha killed a cancer patient in Timmins, Ontario with potassium chloride, pleaded guilty to a charge of second degree murder, received a suspended sentence and had his medical license suspended for 90 days.
Robert Latimer was convicted of murdering his daughter, Tracy, who he said was suffering terribly from her cerebral palsy. From what I can recall the medical/nursing staff looking after her disagreed. He received a very light jail sentence of 2 years which has been appealed by the Crown and is currently waiting to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada - possibly in the fall, so we will be watching that case carefully.

Thus, it appears that mercy killing by doctors, whether with the patient's consent or without, is being tolerated in Canada without changing the law.

Mercy killing in Holland started with terminal cancer cases who had severe pain and were offered mercy killing as an option. These were reported to the Public Prosecutor but not prosecuted. It is not coincidence that at the time Holland was well known to be far behind other Western countries in the development of hospice or palliative care programmes and Dutch doctors knew little about modern pain control. At some hospitals as many as 50% of cancer patients died from mercy killing. Following the acceptance of this practice by the authorities, mercy killing was offered to other patients with other diseases, such as anorexia nervosa, senility and finally depression and other psychological problems. Increasing numbers of these were involuntary, without the patient's permission. In some parts of Holland senior citizens in institutions were afraid when the doctor came in case they were to be killed. Some senior citizens carried cards saying they did not want to be killed and certain hospitals (usually Christian) were agreed to be "safe". Apparently, doctors were increasingly failing to report cases of euthanasia. And all this in a country where many Dutch doctors died during World War II rather than comply with the Nazi Euthanasia programmes! No wonder that when prestigious groups representing the British House of Lords, the Canadian Senate, the New York State Legislature and the editorial board of the Journal of the American Medical Association returned from a visit to Holland, they all recommended that mercy killing not be legalized. These groups could hardly be called Pro-life! The State of Oregon became the first legislature in the Western world to legalize euthanasia but now is considering revisiting the subject with the urging of the Oregon State Medical Association.

Euthanasia/mercy killing is a complex subject, difficult to study compared to abortion, since cases of mercy killing differ from one another. There is a connection of course between the two, as abortion has been called Antenatal Euthanasia and this applies especially to babies diagnosed before birth with modern techniques such as amniocentesis (which ironically was originally used to save babies with Rh disease). Newborn babies with serious mental defects such as Down's Syndrome or physical defects such as Meningomyelocele have been left to die without necessary surgery and in some cases killed directly. Fortunately, legal decisions in these cases have almost always favored saving the baby and this practice has decreased.

So, what can we do? I believe what is needed is a coalition of Pro-life groups, disabled groups, palliative care associations and churches who can educate the public and politicians and convince them that proper palliative care will practically eliminate severe pain and that patients asking for assisted suicide or mercy killing are really calling out for help. (Patients who have survived attempted suicide generally say they do not want to die - 80% in one study).

One such effort is the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of Ontario which has a highly respected palliative care nurse and physician as well as myself on the executive.

Albert Schweitzer once said that all that is required for evil to flourish is for good men (and women!) to remain silent. I hope this article will help readers to understand the issues and take some action.

L.L. deVeber MD FRCP (C)
Professor Emeritus U.W.O.
President, The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of Ontario
President, The deVeber Institute for Bioethical and Social Research.

Information concerning the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of Ontario may be obtained by phone 1-519-439-7552, fax 439-7552, by mail at Box 2400, 155 Bruce St., London ON, N6A 4G3 or by E-mail to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Action Life Online Article

Can pain be controlled?

Specialists assure us that more than 95% of all pain can be controlled through the appropriate use of opiates and narcotics. If you know someone who has recently died in uncontrolled pain, the reason was not the unavailability of adequate pain relief but, rather, the ignorance and/or fear of addiction within the medical profession. The long-term solution is to place more emphasis on teaching effective pain control to all health care providers. For now, if you or someone you know faces uncontrolled pain, change doctors immediately.

Must I submit to invasive or unwanted medical treatment?

Unfortunately it is not well understood by the general public that patients have the common law right to refuse any medical treatment. In fact, the average person is unaware that a doctor who treats a patient against his or her expressed wishes can be charged with assault. We already have personal autonomy with regard to medical treatment.

There is no law, medical group, church or anti-euthanasia organization which insists on unnecessary, useless, heroic or unduly burdensome measures to keep a dying person alive.

I don't want to be a "burden" on society

In a truly caring society, those who become dependant need not perceive themselves as having a "duty to die". Canadian society has never regarded pity, compassion and mercy as a justification for killing others. This must not change.

"Watching our loved ones grow old is one of life's lessons. We need to learn how to die, you know, just as we need to learn how to meet every other challenge we face in life. We learn that, as we do almost everything else, from our elders... 
I would not have traded the time I spent looking after my elderly mother for any other time in my life. She was my mother. I loved her dearly. And, just as she taught me about the beginning of life, she taught me too about the end of life. Why would I wilfully cheat my children of such a lesson?"
- Rita Marker, International Anti-Euthanasia Taskforce.

How can I achieve a "dignified death"?

Many people fear a "loss of dignity" and have somehow been convinced that the best means by which they can achieve a "dignified death" is to be killed by a physician. We do not believe that there is any dignity in allowing ourselves to be killed. The following is a better definition of "death with dignity":

"The dignity of human beings is derived from inherent worth, not worth 'for something'. Dignity is, therefore, an endowment that is largely reflected and conveyed in an attitude of respect and tenderness shown by others. Although the process of an illness and decline may significantly change people, it can never remove their dignity unless others allow it to do so. Such dignity can be seen in the forbearance, humour, and grace with which others care for them." 
- Dr. Elizabeth Latimer, Ontario Medical Review, February 1992.

We realize that it is never easy to watch a person die, but it is important to note that through this experience we have the tremendous potential of either affirming or robbing a person of their dignity by the degree to which we accept and care for them through this difficult time.

The solution...

Positive and compassionate response to a dying patient's needs can be found in good palliative care. Palliative care affirms life while recognizing that death is part of living. Palliative care does not seek to lengthen or shorten a patient's last days but to make them as rewarding and pain free as possible. The emphasis is on comfort rather than cure. The patient has a say in all decisions about treatments and almost all pain can be relieved to allow patients to die with true human dignity.

If there is a "right to die," it surely should be the right to die naturally rather than to be subjected to a form of capital punishment for the crime of failing to die sooner.


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