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November 28, 2007

Thinking about Brains

Over at Sentencing Law and Policy, Doug recently described a fascinating development at the Baylor College of Medicine-- they have started an Initiative on Law, Brains, and Behavior, with the goal of hosting a major conference in the Fall of 2008. The official web site reveals that the point of this initiative is to address "how new discoveries in neuroscience should navigate the way we make laws, punish criminals, and develop rehabilitation. The project brings together a unique collaboration of neurobiologists, legal scholars, ethicists, medical humanists, and policy makers, with the goal of running experiments that will result in modern, evidence-based policy....Emerging questions at the interface of law and neuroscience include: Is it a legitimate defense to claim that a brain tumor ‘made you do it’? Do the brains of minors have the same decision-making and impulse control as adult brains – and how does that change punishment? Can novel technologies such as brain imaging be leveraged for rehabilitation? How should juries assess responsibility, given that most behaviors are driven by systems of the brain that we cannot control?"

These are fascinating issues, and this is exactly the type of interdisciplinary collaboration a field like criminal law needs. Practitioners like myself talk about (for example) how a juvenile evaluates risk differently than an adult would, but we don't really know in a medical sense how that works, or if our assumptions stand up to what science has found. 

-- Mark Osler

November 28, 2007 | Permalink


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