Bioethics Blogs

Bioethics Commission Urges Neuroscientists to Participate in Legal Processes, and Cautions Against Hype

Earlier this year, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) released the second of its two-volume report on neuroscience and ethics—Gray Matters: Topics at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society (Gray Matters, Vol. 2). One of the topics it examined in depth was the application of neuroscientific evidence and concepts to legal and policy decision making processes. Neuroscience research and evidence have the potential to add value to the law by improving accuracy, decreasing errors, and helping us gain a deeper understanding of human motivation and behavior. However, the application of this novel and advancing science to the centuries-old legal institution is not without ethical and practical challenges.

In Gray Matters, Vol. 2, the Bioethics Commission made several recommendations to address ethical and practical challenges and maximize the potential value of neuroscience to the legal system. In particular, the Bioethics Commission recommended that:

Neuroscientists should participate in legal decision-making processes and policy development to ensure the accurate interpretation and communication of neuroscience information.

Neuroscience researchers are in the best position to explain scientific concepts, research results, and limitations of neurotechnologies to a legal audience. Judges and jurors need to understand how neurotechnologies work, what their limitations are, and how to accurately translate and apply research findings to a legal setting. Neuroscientists have several options for engagement. For example, they can act as expert witnesses in court, act as consultants for legal teams, or help attorneys write briefs. In addition, neuroscientists also can assist in policy making at local, state, and federal levels, by ensuring that their research findings are accurately explained to legislators and policy makers.

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.