The UK-based Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has published a government commissioned scientific review and concluded that a fetus is not conscious at 24 weeks of age. It is also not able to feel pain.
The London based Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has published a scientific review and concluded that a fetus is not conscious at 24 weeks of age, and that from a neurological point of view it is not able to feel pain.
The review had been called for by certain parties who wanted to change the legal limit for abortions in the United Kingdom from 24 to 20 weeks, and had been commissioned by the Department of Health, following recommendations by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in 2008. A previous study by the same RCOG stems from 1997 and the present paper -- Fetal Awareness -- is now regarded as an update to that earlier guidance for politicians and lawmakers.
Now, after two years of study, the two main conclusion of the report include: a fetus cannot feel any pain before 24 weeks, simply because the neural connections in the brain are not yet fully formed. Second, while the fetus is in the chemical environment of the womb, it actually is in a state similar to induced sleep, meaning that it is unconscious.
About the manner in which the report was put together, the RCOG website is completely transparent, saying that A wide range of stakeholders including scientists, doctors, midwives and lay representatives were involved in producing these reports. Relevant international scientific studies published since the 1990s were considered by the respective working parties as was evidence submitted to the Science and Technology Committee. An online public consultation followed and the public were invited to submit their views. Both documents went through rigorous peer-review which included academics, ethicists and lawyers.
A UK website called In the News quotes a Downing Street spokeswoman as saying "The prime minister's view is that he will be led by the science. At the moment there are no plans to change the policy." It is common knowledge that David Cameron has hinted in the past that he'd like to see the 1967 Abortion Act reviewed at some point.
To read the complete RCOG release of the study, a PDF called Fetal Awareness - Review of Research and Recommendations for Practice is available on their website.