Tag: criminal law

Bioethics Blogs

Neuroethics as Outreach

By Adina Roskies
Adina Roskies is The Helman Family Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and chair of the Cognitive Science Program at Dartmouth College. She received a Ph.D from the University of California, San Diego in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science in 1995, a Ph.D. from MIT in philosophy in 2004, and an M.S.L. from Yale Law School in 2014. Prior to her work in philosophy she held a postdoctoral fellowship in cognitive neuroimaging at Washington University with Steven Petersen and Marcus Raichle from 1995-1997, and from 1997-1999 was Senior Editor of the neuroscience journal Neuron. Dr. Roskies’ philosophical research interests lie at the intersection of philosophy and neuroscience, and include philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and ethics. She has coauthored a book with Stephen Morse, A Primer on Criminal Law and Neuroscience

As I write this, I am thinking more broadly about ethics and neuroscience than I usually do, pushed by political necessity. The topic of my concern is science education, construed generally. In this era in which “alternative facts” are allowed to bear that name, rather than their true name — which is “lies and misinformation” — and in which science is ignored, deemed irrelevant, or actively suppressed, I see a growing need for people in all the sciences and in ethics to speak out and to educate, wherever possible.

Neuroscientists and neuroethicists may actually have an easier time doing this than many scientists whose work has either been so politicized that they have no voice, such as people working on climate change or other environmental issues, or whose research is taken to be so esoteric that it is hard to get ordinary people to care (though much of it, like gravity waves, is really cool!).

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.

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Criminal Law and Neuroscience: Hope or Hype?

August 1, 2017

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Most commonly, many thought that traditional notions of criminal responsibility would be undermined for various reasons, such as demonstrating that people really cannot control themselves as well as we believe, or as indicating that more action was automatic, thoughtless and non-rational than we think. Most radically, the neuroexuberants argued that neuroscience shows that no one is really responsible because we are not agents; rather, we are victims of neuronal circumstances that mechanistically produce our epiphenomenal thoughts and our bodily movements. Similar claims were made when the genome was cracked. The age of cognitive, affective, and social neuroscience (behavioral neuroscience)—the neurosciences most relevant to law—is almost two decades old. What have we learned that is legally relevant and how has it transformed criminal law doctrine and practice?

Despite the astonishing advances in neuroscience, most of what we know is not legally relevant, has not transformed doctrine in the slightest and has had scant influence on practice except in death penalty proceedings. The reasons are conceptual, scientific, and practical. The first and most basic conceptual problem is that we have no idea how the brain enables the mind and action, although we know that it does. If your brain is dead, you have no mental states and do not act. The brain/mind/action connection is one of the hardest problems in science and neuroscience is not about to crack it anytime soon, if ever.

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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.

Bioethics Blogs

Criminal Law and Neuroscience: Hope or Hype?

By Stephen J. Morse

Stephen J. Morse, J.D., Ph.D., is a lawyer and a psychologist. He is Ferdinand Wakeman Hubbell Professor of Law, Professor of Psychology and Law in Psychiatry, and Associate Director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Morse is also a Diplomate in Forensic Psychology of the American Board of Professional Psychology. He has been working on the relation of neuroscience to law, ethics and social policy for over two decades, has written numerous articles and book chapters on these topics and has edited A Primer on Neuroscience and Criminal Law (Oxford University Press, 2013, with Adina Roskies). He was previously Co-Director of the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project and was a member of the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Research Network. Professor Morse is a recipient of the American Academy of Forensic Psychology’s Distinguished Contribution Award, and a recipient of the American Psychiatric Association’s Isaac Ray Award for distinguished contributions to forensic psychiatry and the psychiatric aspects of jurisprudence. 

The discovery of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 1991, which permits non-invasive imaging of brain function, and the wide availability of scanners for research starting in about 2000 fueled claims that what we would learn about the brain and behavior would transform and perhaps revolutionize criminal law. Most commonly, many thought that traditional notions of criminal responsibility would be undermined for various reasons, such as demonstrating that people really cannot control themselves as well as we believe, or as indicating that more action was automatic, thoughtless and non-rational than we think.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

What’s the Point of Professional Ethical Codes?

For a few reasons, I’ve been thinking a bit over the last few months about professionalism and professional codes.  In fact, that’s the topic that’s attracted most of my attention here since… oooh, ages ago.  I find the idea of a code of professional ethics troubling in many ways, but also fascinating.  And one of the fascinating questions has to do with what they’re for.

They can’t be meant as a particularly useful tool for solving deep moral dilemmas: they’re much too blunt for that, often presuppose too much, and tend to bend to suit the law.  To think that because the relevant professional code enjoins x it follows that x is permissible or right smacks of a simple appeal to authority, and this flies in the face of what it is to be a moral agent in the first place.  But what a professional code of ethics may do is to provide a certain kind of Bolamesque legal defence: if your having done φ attracts a claim that it’s negligent or unreasonable or something like that, being able to point out that your professional body endorses φ-ing will help you out.  But professional ethics, and what counts as professional discipline, stretches way beyond that.  For example, instances of workplace bullying can be matters of great professional and ethical import, but it’s not at all obvious that the law should be involved.

There’s a range of reasons why someone’s behaviour might be of professional ethical concern.  Perhaps the most obvious is a concern for public protection. 

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Aid in Dying Case Arguments to be heard in New York Court of Appeals Tuesday, May 30

The right of terminally ill, mentally competent adults to achieve a more peaceful death is at stake in Myers v. Schneiderman, now before the New York Court of Appeals, New York’s highest state court. 


Oral arguments will be held on May 30 at 2:30 PM in Albany. The proceedings of the court will be webcast live here.  


The appeal seeks to reverse lower court decisions that dismissed the case prior to trial. The case, brought by patients, doctors, End of Life Choices New York, and its Clinical Director, seeks to establish the right of terminally ill patients to receive a prescription for medication which they can self ingest to achieve a peaceful death if confronted by suffering they find unbearable. 


The court has before it two sets of arguments: first the court is asked to determine the reach of New York criminal law; plaintiffs allege it does not reach this conduct. Second, if the court finds the criminal statute does outlaw aid in dying it will consider whether guarantees of liberty, privacy and autonomy conferred by the New York State Constitution protect it.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

The Unusual Case of Ian Paterson and Criminally Harmful Surgery

Guest post by Alex Mullock, University of Manchester

On 28th April 2017 in the case of breast surgeon, Ian Paterson, the jury in Nottingham Crown Court agreed that in carrying out unnecessary and mutilating surgery the defendant had done what no reasonable surgeon would do.  Paterson was convicted of seventeen counts of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm (GBH) and three counts of unlawful wounding (under, respectively, sections 18 and 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861) against nine women and one man. These ten victims, however, have been reported to represent a tiny proportion of all Paterson’s alleged victims, a group that might amount to hundreds from his many years of practice in the NHS and private sector.

The “obscure motives” that compelled Paterson may forever remain a mystery but it is interesting that the charges against him relate only to patients he treated in his private practice.  This enabled the prosecution to create a narrative that suggested that financial gain could have been the motivating factor for Paterson’s crimes.  Without greed as a possible motive his actions are baffling, and the prosecution’s case, in alleging that surgery which Paterson argued was performed in the patient’s best interests actually constituted GBH or unlawful wounding, would be more challenging because of the medical context of the allegations.  Importantly, the medical exception to the criminal law – the principle that consensual surgery carried out by qualified professionals is legitimate (“proper medical treatment”) – means that there is an assumption that harm caused by surgery is not a matter for the criminal law because it is a risk that we accept in order to enjoy the benefits of surgical medicine.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Aid in Dying Court Appeal Comes to New York Court of Appeals May 30; Strong, Diverse and Growing Support in Amicus Briefs

The right of terminally ill, mentally competent adults to achieve a more peaceful death is at stake in Myers v. Schneiderman, now before the New York Court of Appeals, NY’s highest state court.  Oral arguments will be held in Albany on May 30.


The appeal seeks to reverse lower court decisions that dismissed the case prior to trial.  The case seeks to establish the right of terminally ill patients to receive a prescription for medication which they can self ingest to achieve a peaceful death if confronted by suffering they find unbearable.


Wide support for the plaintiffs is demonstrated by a multitude of amicus briefs submitted to the court by diverse parties representing patients and their loved ones, medical, religious and civil liberties organizations as well as national legal associations.  Two of these organizations are supporting the legalization of aid in dying as an amicus for the first time.


Kathryn Tucker, Executive Director of End of Life Liberty Project, and co-counsel in the case, said, “We are very pleased to see a large number of important voices joining us in seeking reversal of the lower court dismissal of the case. It is especially interesting to note the appearance of new voices not previously involved in aid in dying cases.”


Ms. Tucker noted, “Two new ‘friends’ of end of life liberty are stepping forward in Myers. For the first time in a case seeking to establish access to aid in dying, a state chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) is participating as an amicus in support of patients and physicians.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Aid in Dying Court Appeal Comes to New York Court of Appeals May 30; Strong, Diverse and Growing Support in Amicus Briefs

The right of terminally ill, mentally competent adults to achieve a more peaceful death is at stake in Myers v. Schneiderman, now before the New York Court of Appeals, NY’s highest state court.  Oral arguments will be held in Albany on May 30.


The appeal seeks to reverse lower court decisions that dismissed the case prior to trial.  The case seeks to establish the right of terminally ill patients to receive a prescription for medication which they can self ingest to achieve a peaceful death if confronted by suffering they find unbearable.


Wide support for the plaintiffs is demonstrated by a multitude of amicus briefs submitted to the court by diverse parties representing patients and their loved ones, medical, religious and civil liberties organizations as well as national legal associations.  Two of these organizations are supporting the legalization of aid in dying as an amicus for the first time.


Kathryn Tucker, Executive Director of End of Life Liberty Project, and co-counsel in the case, said, “We are very pleased to see a large number of important voices joining us in seeking reversal of the lower court dismissal of the case. It is especially interesting to note the appearance of new voices not previously involved in aid in dying cases.”


Ms. Tucker noted, “Two new ‘friends’ of end of life liberty are stepping forward in Myers. For the first time in a case seeking to establish access to aid in dying, a state chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) is participating as an amicus in support of patients and physicians.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

A more ethical form of HIV criminalization

HIV has been criminalized throughout the history of the epidemic, or to be more exact, people living with HIV and their behaviors have been a persistent focus of criminal law. This was undoubtedly due in part to the fact that HIV initially was untreatable and infection (for the vast majority) spelt death. It was terrifying. But it wasn’t just an understandable public health reaction. Criminalization is not necessarily a wise way of controlling an epidemic, as it can be counterproductive, driving underground persons potentially subject to the laws. And there is no way of getting around that those disproportionately affected by HIV (especially in the USA), were considered ‘undesirables’ by many in the public and those leaders they voted for. Criminalization also reflected a moral panic against homosexuals and injection drug users. So, because it was not really based on solid public health principles or scientific evidence in the first place, it is unsurprising that states made laws covering actions highly unlikely to lead to transmission (like spitting or oral sex), fail to take the use of new prevention technologies (PreP, use of antiretrovirals) into account, and often don’t take into consideration the intention to cause harm. What is perhaps more surprising (and depressing) is that many of these laws are still on the books.  

I am thinking that HIV criminalization should not be abolished, but pointed in a better direction. Let me back up. For a few years now, I have been working on a NIH-funded project on the social and ethical dimensions of HIV cure research.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Functional neo-Aristotelianism as a way to preserve moral agency: A response to Dr William Casebeer’s lecture: The Neuroscience of Moral Agency

Written by Dr Anibal Monasterio Astobiza

Audio File of Dr Casebeer’s talk is available here: http://media.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/uehiro/HT17_Casebeer.mp3

 

Dr. William Casebeer has an unusual, but nonetheless very interesting, professional career. He retired from active duty as a US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and intelligence analyst. He obtained his PhD in Cognitive Science and Philosophy from University of California, San Diego, under the guidance and inspiration of Patricia and Paul Churchland, served as a Program Manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency from 2010-14 in the Defense Sciences Office and helped to established DARPA’s neuroethics program. Nowadays, Dr. William Casebeer is a Research Area Manager in Human Systems and Autonomy for Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Laboratories. As I said, not the conventional path for a well known researcher with very prominent contributions in neuroethics and moral evolution. His book Natural Ethical Facts: Evolution, Connectionism, and Moral Cognition (MIT Press) presented a functional and neo-Aristotelian account of morality with a clever argument trying to solve G. E. Moore´s naturalistic fallacy: according to Casebeer it is possible to reduce what is good, or in other words morality, to natural facts.

In his public lecture of 14 February 2017, held at the Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School, Oxford, entitled “The Neuroscience of Moral Agency (Or: How I Learned to Love Determinism and Still Respect Myself in the Morning”, Dr. William Casebeer resubmitted the case for a functional neo-Aristotelianism  model for agency that defends a compatibilist view of free will: to accept determinism as viable but still hold moral concepts true.

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.