News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

SJC decision could change handling of juvenile offenders

By Milton Valencia and John Ellement | The Boston Globe | December 27, 2013

This week’s Supreme Judicial Court decision opening the door to parole for teenagers convicted of murder will force a major examination of the way the state tries, sentences, and attempts to rehabilitate them, according to legal analysts.

In its Tuesday decision, Massachusetts’ highest court called on the state to quickly create a “new, constitutional sentencing scheme for juveniles convicted of homicide crimes.”

“We have to look at our system and figure out where we make it work in a way that has meaningful accountability, but looks at kids in a meaningful way, and addresses the fact that they are kids,” said Naoka Carey, executive director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice, a nonprofit research and advocacy group based in Massachusetts, in a phone interview Thursday. Continue reading »

Watch: Picturing Pain in the Brain

In a December 16, 2013 webinar for the Pain Research Forum, presenter Tor Wager, University of Colorado, Boulder, gave a talk titled “Towards fMRI-Based Biomarkers for Pain.”

Following the talk, a distinguished panel discussed important issues raised by Wager’s presentation. The panel included:

  • Vania Apkarian, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, US
  • Karen Davis, Toronto Western Research Institute, University Health Network; and the University of Toronto, Canada
  • Giandomenico Iannetti, University College London, UK
  • Robert Coghill, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, US (moderator)

Continue reading »

Watch: Capacity, Finances, and the Elderly: Brain Science Meets the Law

Capacity, Finances, and the Elderly

Click above to view the flyer for this event.

On December 12th, 2013, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Bornstein Amphitheater, CLBB joined forces with the Boston Society of Neurology and Psychiatry to host a conversation among experts in neurology, psychiatry, and the law about how the science of aging could impact how we protect older adults from victimization and undue influence. Where do we draw the line between protection and paternalism?  What constitutes a bad financial decision?  Who needs additional protections?

Panelists included Bruce H. Price, MD, Chief of Neurology at McLean Hospital and Co-Director of CLBB;  Rebecca W. Brendel, MD, JD, Consultant to the Law & Psychiatry Service at MGH, Clinical Director of the Home Base Program,  Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Susan Stenger, Attorney with decades of experience handling probate litigation, including undue influence and lack of capacity cases; and Judge Susan Ricci, Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court in Worcester.

Kay Lazar, Health Reporter at the Boston Globe with a focus on Aging, Sports Medicine and Public Health, moderated a panel discussion and Audience Q&A following the speaker remarks.

To watch video from this event, visit our Vimeo channel on Capacity, or watch individual segments below.

Also, read Kay Lazar’s story about this topic and CLBB’s role in the Boston Globe.

Continue reading »

Mental Illness, Violence and the Gun Control Debate: Evidence, Policy, Privacy and Stigma

Violence is a natural, human behavior, key to both our evolution as a species and to the reproductive success for many an individual vying for scarce food or mating opportunities.  And yet in our modern society, violence is often an unnatural, senseless act, borne out of impulsive aggression — without consideration for the future consequences — or at times, due to gross distortions of reality as can occur for individuals with severe mental illness.

While mental illness is a rare cause of violence, accounting for 3-5% of the violence that reaches our courts, it nonetheless figures prominently in the cultural understanding of violence, particularly since several recent high-profile mass killings involved individuals with clear suggestions of brewing or established psychotic illness.

How can society translate the science of violence and mental illness into practical public health policies that would better protect everyone?

A year after the Sandy Hook massacre, the world seems no closer to understanding why such a horrific act occurred in the case of Adam Lanza, who committed suicide and left few traces of his motives.  It’s no surprise that parents of victims are so desperate for answers and solution that they would entertain imposing routine brain check-ups through a functional MRI scan for those at risk for violence.  Their motives are clear and noble: they want to understand the root causes of violence and find ways that society can protect other children and families from having to undergo the same unimaginable pain and loss they continue to experience every day.  And yet, such a measure would almost certainly represent a violation of several constitutional rights, not to mention being impractical, well beyond the capabilities of the science, and probably by most peoples’ standards, a swing of the pendulum well beyond our comfort zone in the ongoing balance of individual autonomy and public safety.

Continue reading »

Did Brain Scans Just Save a Convicted Murderer From the Death Penalty?

Evidence of John McCluskey’s brain abnormalities presented by his defense team. Blue areas represent larger deviations from normal. PACER

John McCluskey escaped from an Arizona prison in July, 2010. A few days later, he and two accomplices — one of whom was both his cousin and fiancee – carjacked Linda and Gary Haas, a vacationing Oklahoma couple in their 60s. McCluskey shot the Haases inside the camping trailer they were towing behind their truck, and set the trailer on fire with their bodies still inside. McCluskey was convicted for the carjacking and two murders in federal court on Oct. 7.

Yesterday the jury charged with deciding his sentence announced that it had been unable to come to a unanimous decision on the death penalty. That means he’ll get life without parole.

Perhaps it’s little wonder the jury couldn’t agree — they’d been given a lot to consider. McCluskey’s defense team had tried to convince them that he has several brain defects that, combined with other factors, contributed to his crimes and should be considered mitigating circumstances. The defense presented the results of several types of brain scans and various psychological tests, as well as testimony from neurologists and other experts.

Read the full article at WIRED magazine.  December 12, 2013.  By Greg Miller.