Bioethics Blogs

Bioethics Commission Recommends Creation of Educational Tools for Neuroscience in the Legal System

On March 26 the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) released the second part of its two-volume report on neuroscience and ethics, Gray Matters: Topics at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society (Gray Matters, Vol. 2). In Gray Matters, Vol. 2, the Bioethics Commission addressed the application of neuroscience to the legal system. Advances in neuroscience offer a deeper understanding of human behavior and, when applied to legal decision making and policy development, can potentially improve accuracy, reduce errors, and advance justice. However, the application of neuroscience to the legal system is not without ethical concerns, including questions about scientific reliability and overreliance.

Neuroscience is already and increasingly being used in criminal and civil court cases and to influence policy at the highest levels. Bridging the interdisciplinary gap between neuroscience and the law can be difficult. To understand and accurately interpret neuroscience, stakeholders must be educated. Specifically, the Bioethics Commission recommended:

Government bodies and professional organizations, including legal societies and nonprofit organizations, should develop, expand, and promote training resources, primers, and other educational tools that explain the application of neuroscience to the legal system for distribution to members of the public, jurors, judges, attorneys, and others.

Practical challenges make it difficult for neuroscience to be applied accurately to the legal system. Neuroscience and the law are two disciplines that involve vastly different kinds of expertise, assumptions, terminology, and goals. Generally, neuroscience research aims to make correlations in the aggregate across populations, whereas the law seeks to draw conclusions about individual behavior and motivation.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.