2 authors of fetal-pain paper accused of bias |
By Emily Bazar, USA TODAY
A medical student who has worked for an abortion rights group and the director of a clinic that provides abortions were among authors of a report on the highly charged issue of fetal pain published Wednesday.
The report, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, concluded that fetuses probably don't feel pain until around the seventh month of pregnancy. It drew immediate criticism from anti-abortion activists and other researchers. One of them, Kanwaljeet Anand of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, predicted that it would "inflame a lot of scientists who are ... far more knowledgeable in this area than the authors appear to be." (Related story: Report: Fetal pain in month 7)
Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee in Washington, said the research is tarnished with bias.
"If Congress wants an objective evaluation of whether calves and lambs are being slaughtered humanely, they will not rely too much on the report from the operators of slaughterhouses," he said.
The report is based on a review of scientific studies and was conducted by five researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
The lead author, UCSF medical student Susan J. Lee, also is an attorney. Before entering medical school, she worked for eight months as a lawyer for the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, now NARAL Pro-Choice America, UCSF said. Another author, Eleanor Drey, is medical director of the Women's Options Center at San Francisco General Hospital. The center provides abortions. She is an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCSF.
The review comes as federal and state lawmakers consider fetal-pain laws aimed at curtailing abortions. The laws generally would require doctors to tell women considering abortions when fetuses are at least 20 weeks along that their fetuses can feel pain, and to offer anesthesia specifically for their fetuses.
Catherine DeAngelis, the journal's editor in chief, said neither Lee nor Drey disclosed their abortion-related work or advocacy to the journal. Though she wishes they had, she said, it would not have influenced her decision to print the report.
DeAngelis said the authors are specialists from diverse disciplines, including anatomy and anesthesia. "This is a peer-reviewed article by five people representing all the pertinent fields," she said. "This is an article meant to educate physicians on the issue of what is known and not yet known about fetal pain. It provides the best available scientific evidence to date." Drey and Lee's affiliations "aren't relevant," she said.
Drey said Wednesday she didn't disclose her role as medical director of the clinic because it's primarily an administrative function. She holds that position, she said, because of her academic expertise.
"I did extra training in family planning, that includes abortion care and research," she said. "I don't see it as a conflict of interest."
Contributing: Wire reports