- Published: November 14, 2012
It is possible that neuroscience could have an even greater effect on the legal system than just dealing with criminal law. In fact, some suggest that it may contribute evidence to cases dealing with our constitutional rights. For instance, a number of states have recently passed abortion laws that specifically rely on scientific claims that fetuses are capable of feeling pain. Some people are going as far as supposing that neuroscience could challenge Roe v. Wade with concrete scientific evidence that fetuses can feel pain. In an article for the New York Times’ Opinionator blog, Johns Hopkins Humanities Professor William Egginton cautions against relying too much on science, specifically neuroscience, to determine what it means to be a “person” according to the Fourteenth Amendment.
Already, we know that juries and judges can be unduly swayed by neuroscientific evidence in the courtroom, suggesting that neuroscience is perceived as being naturally endowed with special credibility. Similarly, in these state abortion laws, there is a serious risk of giving more weight to findings from neuroscience than they deserve. Although it does seem very unlikely that fetuses would be capable of feeling pain any time before the third trimester, research findings about fetal pain detectionhave varied…