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

In Alzheimer’s Cases, Financial Ruin and Abuse Are Always Lurking

By Paul Sullivan | January 30, 2015 | The New York Times “Your Money” “Wealth Matters”

Midway through the film “Still Alice,” which tracks the growing grip of Alzheimer’s on a 50-something Columbia University professor, that professor, played by Julianne Moore, stands at a lectern to address an Alzheimer’s conference. She is holding a yellow highlighter and a copy of her speech.

She proceeds to talk about her struggles with the disease and how she never knows what will vanish from her memory and when. It’s a lucid, affecting talk, and the viewer would be hard pressed to know anything was wrong with her, if not for the highlighter. She uses it to track her every word so she doesn’t read the same sentence over and over again.

For anyone who has ever watched a family member disappear into Alzheimer’s, Ms. Moore’s performance is gripping, particularly as her tricks to stall her decline inevitably fail and the later stages of the disease consume her. Yet the movie is also a great vessel to explore many of the financial issues that families need to address when someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or any other disease that causes cognitive impairment.

Continue reading »

Reappraising Pain

nrn3919-i1By Natasha Bray | Nature Reviews Neuroscience “Pain” | January 29, 2015

Pain has sensory and affective components, and can be augmented or attenuated through the cognitive reappraisal of the painful stimulus in a process called ‘self-regulation’. Although the sensory and affective qualities of pain are thought to be tracked by a set of regions throughout the brain that are collectively known as the ‘neurological…

Read the full article, with subscription, on Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

The Life-or-Death Test

By Maurice Chammah and Dana Goldstein | The Marshall Project | January 29, 2015

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled that prisoners suffering from “mental retardation” — a now outdated term — could not face the death penalty in the 2002 case Atkins v. Virginia, debates about whether a felon qualifies for execution have often revolved around a single number: an IQ score. On Tuesday, Georgia prisoner Warren Hill was executed for the 1990 beating death of a fellow inmate. His attorneys argued unsuccessfully that his IQ of 70 disqualified him for the punishment. This evening, Texas is set to execute Robert Ladd for beating a woman to death with a hammer in 1996. His attorney has pointed out that Ladd’s IQ of 67 would disqualify him from execution in most other states.

Last May, the Supreme Court built on the Atkins decision by ruling that Florida could not exclusively use a simple IQ cut-off when it determined who was fit for execution. “An IQ score is an approxi­mation, not a final and infallible assessment of intellectual functioning,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, demanding a more holistic approach by medical professionals. “Intellectual disability is a condition, not a number.” Continue reading »

US Supreme Court Delays Executions Amid Drugs Review

BBC News | January 28, 2015

The US Supreme Court has postponed the executions of three death row inmates who say the use of the sedative midazolam in the procedures is cruel.

Justices said Oklahoma could not execute Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole by lethal injection using midazolam while the case is pending.

The men’s lawyers argue that midazolam presents an unconstitutional risk of pain and suffering.

The drug was used in three executions seen as botched in 2014. Continue reading »

WATCH – “Re-Envisioning Pain: How Breakthroughs on the Science of Suffering Could Revolutionize Legal Understanding and Outcomes”

Pain is at the heart of legal areas from tort to torture, and yet legal decision-makers may be relying on scientifically outmoded concepts of pain and its effects. This Symposium brought together legal and medical experts to discuss:

Click to view event poster.

Click to view event poster.

  • Recent scientific breakthroughs in the understanding of pain, including long-term neurological changes
  • The complicated relationship between pain and emotion, and how studying how physical and emotional pain are represented in the brain can help us understand their similarities and differences
  • How updated understanding of the neuroscience of pain can help improve legal outcomes—and where the limits are

The conversation, presented by the CLBB Pain & Suffering working group, with support from the Harvard Mind Brain Behavior Interfaculty Initiative, was facilitated by Judy Foreman, an investigative journalist and author of A Nation In Pain: Healing Our Country’s Greatest Health Problem. Continue reading »