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

Humanizing Pain: Advocacy, Policy and Law on Abortion, Execution and Juvenile Life Without Parole

By Robert Kinscherff, Senior Fellow in Law & Applied Neuroscience

I recently attended a presentation on Fetal Pain: An Update on the Science and Legal Implications, jointly sponsored by the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior (Massachusetts General Hospital) and the Petrie-Flom Center (Harvard Law School). Presenters were Amanda Pustilnik, JD (University of Maryland School of Law) and Maureen Strafford, MD (Tufts University School of Medicine). Video of the event is available on the website, and I encourage everyone to watch the full discussion for themselves.

Doctor Strafford delivered a masterful overview of the trajectory of scientific perspective and research about children and pain. Over the course of her career, the medical perspective has transformed from “children do not feel pain” to “children do not remember pain” to inquiry into “when and how children feel pain.” Strafford described the medical complexities of understanding the physical and subjective aspects of pain as well as the impossibility of confidently “pinpointing” the exact point in fetal development when a neonate experiences pain.

Professor Pustilnik gave an equally compelling review of law and legal language regarding abortion, particularly law that specifically references fetal pain as a reason for limiting abortion.   This served to frame a conversation about pain and suffering in the law and the ways in which law reflects normative considerations and provides rhetoric (viewed respectively by partisans as “compelling” or “inflammatory”) to political discourse. In this case, discourse about fetal pain both attracts attention and is intended to facilitate empathy for the neonate.

Taken together, Pustilnik and Strafford made a powerful case that the current discourse about fetal pain reflects a strategic communication strategy intended to advance the cause of abortion opponents. Continue reading »

Even When Inconsistent, Justice Scalia Was Certain

On Saturday, February 13, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. CLBB Faculty Member Judge Nancy Gertner (ret.) reflects on his legacy.

By Nancy Gertner | The Boston Globe | February 14, 2016

I did not know Justice Antonin Scalia. Following the announcement of his death, I could not help but be struck by the accounts of his warmth, his friendships (notably with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, with whom he regularly disagreed on the Supreme Court), his deep religious commitment, his infectious sense of humor.

I knew him through his opinions, books, and speeches. Even though I disagreed with him much of the time, one thing is clear: His legal positions could not be ignored — not by lawyers, scholars, judges, nor the public. I had to take them seriously in my own judicial decisions and in my writing. And the need to deal with his arguments shifted the debate, even the outcomes. Continue reading »

We Asked Scientists: Just How Punchable is Martin Shkreli’s Face?

By Jessica Goldstein | ThinkProgress | February 10, 2016

Martin Shkreli, the widely-despised pharmaceutical CEO who hiked the price of a cancer drug from $13.50 a tablet to $750 overnight, may currently hold the crown for America’s Most Actively Disliked Public Figure.

Last Thursday, Shkreli testified before the House Committee on Oversight. He barely said a word while seated at the witness table, choosing to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself. Instead, Shkreli twisted his face into every smug smirk imaginable. Each expression was more disdainful and infuriating than the last. A consensus from an already not-thrilled public was reached: Martin Shkreli has the most punchable face in the world. It is almost a wonder to behold. Continue reading »

Early Traumatic Experiences, Perceived Discrimination and Conversion to Psychosis in Those at Clinical High Risk for Psychosis

By Jacqueline Stowkowy, Lu Liu, Kristin S. Cadenhead, Tyrone D. Cannon, Barbara A. CornblattThomas H. McGlashan, Diana O. Perkins, Larry J. Seidman, Ming T. Tsuang, Elaine F. WalkerScott W. Woods, Carrie E. Bearden, Daniel H. Mathalon, and Jean Addington | Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology | February 6, 2016

Abstract:

Purpose

There is evidence to suggest that both early traumatic experiences and perceived discrimination are associated with later onset of psychosis. Less is known about the impact these two factors may have on conversion to psychosis in those who are at clinical high risk (CHR) of developing psychosis. The purpose of this study was to determine if trauma and perceived discrimination were predictors of conversion to psychosis.

Methods

The sample consisted of 764 individuals who were at CHR of developing psychosis and 280 healthy controls. All participants were assessed on past trauma, bullying and perceived discrimination.

Results

Individuals at CHR reported significantly more trauma, bullying and perceived discrimination than healthy controls. Only perceived discrimination was a predictor of later conversion to psychosis.

Conclusions

Given that CHR individuals are reporting increased rates of trauma and perceived discrimination, these should be routinely assessed, with the possibility of offering interventions aimed at ameliorating the impact of past traumas as well as improving self-esteem and coping strategies in an attempt to reduce perceived discrimination.

Read the entire article here.

Genetic Influences on Schizophrenia and Subcortical Brain Volumes: Large-Scale Proof of Concept

By Barbara FrankeJason L. SteinStephan RipkeVerneri AnttilaDerrek P. HibarKimm J. E. van HulzenAlejandro Arias-VasquezJordan W. SmollerThomas E. NicholsMichael C. NealeAndrew M. McIntoshPhil LeeFrancis J. McMahonAndreas Meyer-LindenbergManuel MattheisenOle A. AndreassenOliver GruberPerminder S. SachdevRoberto Roiz-SantiañezAndrew J. SaykinStefan EhrlichKaren A. MatherJessica A. TurnerEmanuel SchwarzAnbupalam Thalamuthu, et al. | Nature Neuroscience | February 1, 2016

Abstract:

Schizophrenia is a devastating psychiatric illness with high heritability. Brain structure and function differ, on average, between people with schizophrenia and healthy individuals. As common genetic associations are emerging for both schizophrenia and brain imaging phenotypes, we can now use genome-wide data to investigate genetic overlap. Here we integrated results from common variant studies of schizophrenia (33,636 cases, 43,008 controls) and volumes of several (mainly subcortical) brain structures (11,840 subjects). We did not find evidence of genetic overlap between schizophrenia risk and subcortical volume measures either at the level of common variant genetic architecture or for single genetic markers. These results provide a proof of concept (albeit based on a limited set of structural brain measures) and define a roadmap for future studies investigating the genetic covariance between structural or functional brain phenotypes and risk for psychiatric disorders.

Read the full paper here.