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Should doctors use anesthetic for fetuses?

Doctors should consider administering an anesthetic as part of treatment or abortion of fetuses that are at least 24 weeks old, a British medical panel reported Friday.

The recommendation was made by a working group appointed by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to review the issue of fetal pain."Fetal awareness of pain is a very emotive topic, of particular concern to pregnant women, but we have tried to approach it without preconceptions, to examine the scientific evidence dispassionately, and to identify areas where further research is urgently needed," said Dr. Anne McLaren, who headed the panel.

In the United States, 91 percent of abortions are done within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Less than 1 percent are done after 24 weeks, according to International Planned Parenthood in Washington. Later abortions are usually done only when a mother's life is in danger.

The panel said a fetus could not feel pain until nerve connections were established between the cortex and the thalamus of the developing brain - which happens around 26 weeks.

The panel said painkillers should be considered when diagnostic procedures are performed on a fetus at or after 24 weeks or for late abortions. The group settled on 24 weeks rather than 26 because of the difficulty of determining the exact age of a fetus.

"We don't know what the effect of an analgesia would be on the child, and it is difficult to find out. One of our recommendations is that more research is done on intervention with or without analgesia," McLaren said.