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?
From the programme’s website:
Since losing her husband to a terminal illness, and watching his kidneys fail, Pamela has felt a burning desire to try to help someone else escape a similar fate.
A year after his death, she writes to her local hospital to ask if she can become an ‘altruistic’ donor, and donate one of her kidneys to a stranger. To her horror, she receives a letter back saying that she is ‘too old’. Undeterred, she approaches a transplant surgeon at another hospital, and he agrees to see her.
To the surgeon, Pamela appears fit and extremely determined. But for a potential donor, she’s also rather unusual – she’s eighty two years old.
Should Pamela be allowed to donate? What are the risks to her – both of the operation itself, and of being left with only one kidney? And, if the team allow her to donate, who should receive such an elderly organ?
16th April 2010, Wellcome Trust, 183 Euston Road, London.
Following the recent Department of Health Report, Achieving Age Equality in Health and Social Care, UCL is pleased to announce a free one day conference on the topic of how the NHS should deal with questions of age when making decisions about which treatments to fund at the end of life.
This conference is supported by the UCLH/UCL Comprehensive Biomedical Research Centre and the UCL Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine.
09.30 Coffee and registration
10.15 How does NICE view age? Andrew Stevens (Birmingham)
11.00 Age weighting and the QALY. Mark Sculpher (York)
12.00 Age discrimination: some analytical issues. John Macnicol (LSE)
01.45 Life saving treatments and the QALY. Aki Tsuchiya (Sheffield)
02.45 Is the rule of rescue dead? Sarah Edwards (UCL)
04.00 What matters in extending life? Jo Wolff (UCL)
This event is free but to register please email firstname.lastname@example.org and await confirmation.
Further details of the conference available here.
For all other enquiries, please contact Sarah Edwards
(email@example.com) or Jo Wolff (firstname.lastname@example.org).