Fetuses same as 'brain dead people': Is Justice Sotomayor right?


Fact Box

Ethan (Yes)

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor cited the fact that in many states, brain dead equals dead, even though the body may move, giving a physical response when touched. As a result, the same should be said for fetuses that movement does not equal life. Just because something moves doesn't mean it's alive and therefore worthy of taking precedence over a mother's life and right to make decisions for her own body. 

Justice Sotomayor pointed out that believing babies are alive at conception is a religious notion, not scientific. To those who understand and believe the science behind human development in the womb, life begins when a fetus becomes viable–not when it twitches. Those with religious motivation believe life begins 'at fertilization,' meaning they believe a fetus is a living being as soon as it's conceived. This is simply a disputed claim, and those who support this while playing a role in government or policymaking aren't honoring the doctrine of separation of church and state. Modern medicine suggests a fetus should only be considered alive when it is viable—and this isn't until at least 24 weeks of gestation. 

Many are blowing Sotomayor's statement out of the water, claiming she is likening babies to dead people to be cruel. While she did make the comparison, it is not cruel in the way people have perceived it to be. Justice Sotomayor is not trying to be disrespectful but is rather trying to debunk the 'movement equals life' argument. If it's acceptable to consider brain dead people dead, it shouldn't be hard to accept a non-viable fetus being called dead, either. 


Siam (No)

Justice Sotomayor comparing an unborn human being, a 'fetus,' to a brain dead person, saying that fetal movement doesn't prove consciousness, is not only not truthful but demonstrates her moral and scientific ignorance.

Perhaps most obviously, all human beings begin life as a fetus, which upon fertilization, establishes the baby's sex, ethnicity, eye and hair color, and other genetic traits. Being a fetus is only the necessary starting point in the growth stage of a human's life cycle. 'Life' is important here, as nowhere in science does any living thing first start out as dead. Therefore, suggesting a growing baby in the womb is the same as a brain dead person reveals Sotomayer's ignorance of biology and of the advances made in fetal physiology, otherwise called embryology

A fetus is living (and not dead) as it continues growing and developing fully functional organs. The heart pumps blood, limbs move, the kidneys make urine, the baby can swallow, and its lungs are already practicing breathing all on its own. However, a brain dead person has no chance of recovery and is considered to be in a ‘vegetative state’; they cannot move or survive without constant medical assistance. 

Current neuroscientific studies on fetuses reveal they are able to feel pain as early as 12 weeks. Because of this, fetuses who sometimes undergo surgery while in utero require anesthesia. Doctors do this because they understand fetuses feels pain. Brain dead people do not. 

Lastly, a brain dead individual has little or no potential ever to grow past their state, whereas a fetus will continue its healthy trajectory of growth and development. A moral society and justice system would aim to protect the most vulnerable, the unborn children dehumanized as 'brain dead people.' The most essential part of liberty is the right to life.

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