The latest findings in neuroscience are increasingly affecting the justice system in America. Owen Jones, professor of law and biology at Vanderbilt University, explores where neurolaw is making its mark and where the discipline is heading.
One significant finding from MRI scanners is that the adolescent brain continues to develop right into the early- and mid-twenties. The fact that we are not ‘adults’ at age 18 is having big repercussions in the legal system.
In San Francisco, the entire way that young offenders of crimes such as armed robbery up to the age of 25 are treated is adapting to the brain data.
More and more, neuroscientists are testifying in courts, often to mitigate sentences including the death penalty in juveniles. Other times, they highlight rare brain abnormalities that cause violent and antisocial behaviour, which helps justify a lighter sentence.
However, young brains are still malleable. In Wisconsin, brain imaging of juvenile prisoners can detect psychopathic markers. Once identified, staff can employ techniques to de-programme those antisocial traits and rehabilitate prisoners to ready them for, they hope, a crime-free life outside.
And this is simply the first generation of neurolaw – where to next?
- Should Somatic support be prolonged for a brain dead woman who is 23 weeks pregnant until the foetus can be safely delivered with a good chance of survival?
- Should a 15 year old be allowed to refuse chemotherapy?
- Should a non UK resident be provided with dialysis funded by the NHS?
Come and hear debates on these and other issues at the inaugural inter-medical school ethics debating competition on Wednesday 28th March, 5 – 7.30 in the Burroughs Room, Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, NW1 2BE.
The judging panel includes:
Dr Marika Davies, Medico-legal adviser, MPS, Dr Julian Sheather, Ethics Manager, Medical Ethics Department, British Medical Association and Dr David Misselbrook, Dean of Royal Society of Medicine
Refreshments kindly provided by Wellcome
RSVP: Dr Carolyn Johnston, Adviser Medical Law and Ethics, King’s College London, carolyn.johnston [at] kcl.ac.uk
Positive by Tina Pepler, BBC Radio 4, Thursday 21st July 14.15-15.00, available after broadcast via the iPlayer
From the programme’s page:
In the second of two Afternoon Plays commissioned to accompany the current series of Inside the Ethics Committee, a pregnant teenager and her angry mother present the ante-natal team with a series of increasingly difficult decisions. When Annie is admitted to A&E with stomach pains, she’s shocked to find out that she’s pregnant. Her mother is even more horrified, and the ante-natal team must decide if Annie is capable of making her own decisions without her mother’s consent. The situation is further complicated when Annie wants to keep an even more shocking piece of news from her mother, and the medical team’s efforts to support her come under real pressure as an emergency confronts them with a difficult decision about what is best for Annie’s welfare.
Rosie: Nicola Miles-Wildin
Theresa: Lucy Black
Jacqui: Susie Ridell
Tess: Deirdre Mullins
Des: Jack Holden
Michael: Gerard Cooke
Paul: Chris Yapp
John: Mark Meadows
Mr Joseph: Russell Boulter
Sam/Lily: Nadia Williams
Directed by Sara Davies