Doctor Slams Sotomayor: “To Compare an Unborn Child to a Brain-Dead Person is Wholly Ignorant”

National   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Dec 2, 2021   |   4:54PM   |   Washington, DC

Doctors and scientists corrected U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor this week after she compared unborn babies to brain dead people and claimed they cannot feel pain until at least 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, a radiology specialist and senior fellow with The Catholic Association, said the justice’s statements were “wholly ignorant” of basic scientific knowledge.

“To compare an unborn child to a brain-dead person or a corpse flouts science, which tells us that at 15 weeks gestation, a baby’s organs are fully formed, her heart pumps 26 quarts of blood a day, and her lungs are already practicing drawing breath,” Christie responded in a statement.

On Wednesday, Sotomayor dismissed arguments that unborn babies should be protected from abortion, at the very least, by 15 weeks of pregnancy when they are capable of feeling pain.

Those arguments came from Mississippi attorney Scott Grant Stewart as he asked the high court to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to protect unborn babies from abortion again. During questioning, he told Sotomayor that unborn babies at early stages of pregnancy can be seen recoiling when being poked or touched.

Sotomayor responded by claiming only a “gross minority of doctors” believe fetal pain exists before 24 weeks of pregnancy. Before this point, she asserted that unborn babies are like brain dead people who lack the consciousness to feel pain.

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“Virtually every state defines a brain death as death. Yet, the literature is filled with episodes of people who are completely and utterly brain dead responding to stimuli,” Sotomayor said. “There‘s about 40 percent of dead people who, if you touch their feet, the foot will recoil. There are spontaneous acts by brain dead people. So I don’t think that a response to — by a fetus necessarily proves that there‘s a sensation of pain or that there’s consciousness.”

Afterward, Christie, an accomplished physician and EWTN radio host, said the justice’s claims were “wholly ignorant of the tremendous scientific advances in fetal medicine,” according to the Catholic News Agency.

“As recently as last year, doctors in the Journal of Medical Ethics wrote, ‘Current neuroscientific evidence supports the possibility of fetal pain before the ’consensus‘ cutoff of 24 weeks’ and may be as early as 12 weeks,” Christie said.

She also pointed to the common practice of providing anesthesia to unborn babies for fetal surgeries before 24 weeks and the premature babies who have survived as early as 21 weeks of pregnancy.

Scientists with the Charlotte Lozier Institute also refuted the justice’s claims, citing several recent studies and experts on the science of fetal pain.

“For decades, most neuroscientists have operated by the axiom of ‘cortical necessity.’ This is the idea that a cerebral cortex – the thin, convoluted, outer layer of the brain that activates between 24 and 30 weeks’ gestation – is required to perceive pain,” the institute responded in a statement.

“There has long been evidence to the contrary. But accumulating studies, especially two from 2016, strongly imply that cortical necessity is incorrect: evidence shows subcortical (lower) brain structures that develop much earlier than 24 to 30 weeks are sufficient for pain perception,” the institute continued.

Last year, a renowned expert in the science of fetal pain said he now believes that unborn babies are capable of feeling pain as early as 12 weeks of pregnancy. Dr. Stuart Derbyshire, a pro-choice neuroscientist at the National University of Singapore, published an analysis in 2020 explaining the reasons why he now thinks an unborn baby’s capability to feel pain begins at about 12 weeks – not 24 weeks as his previous research suggested.

However, some pro-abortion groups still cite Derbyshire’s old research to claim, as Sotomayor did, that unborn babies are not capable of feeling pain until at least 24 weeks.

Dr. David Prentice, vice president of research at the Charlotte Lozier Institute and an expert on stem cell research, urged Sotomayor to recognize that science has not stood still since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

“Modern research is revealing that unborn babies do feel pain at an early stage, and we see that science in action regularly during fetal surgery, in which doctors apply analgesia in utero to prevent the suffering of the unborn child,” Prentice said.

Earlier this year, a medical alliance representing more than 30,000 doctors and medical professionals also filed a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that unborn babies are patients who deserve legal protections.

“In the nearly 50 years since the court wrongly decided Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, medical science has progressed significantly and has increasingly supported the pro-life position,” the medical alliance said in a statement. “It is time that the law of our land caught up with advances in medical science and supported the human rights of all of our patients.”

Pro-life advocates hope the Supreme Court will scale back or overturn Roe v. Wade in their ruling on the Mississippi case.

If they do, states would be allowed to protect unborn babies from abortion again, possibly from the moment of conception or at least after the first trimester, and groups estimate anywhere from a dozen to two dozen states would do so. As a result, thousands of babies could be spared from violent abortion deaths every year across America.

The high court is expected to publish its ruling on the case sometime next year, potentially June 2022.