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

Is it Time to Pull the Plug on “Brain Death”?

Defined as the permanent cessation of all brain activity as measured by clinical and laboratory tests, brain death is currently accepted in all 50 states and within the context of all major religions.

The concept of brain death itself is a consequence of technology.  After the development of positive-pressure ventilators, a patient’s respiration and circulation could be sustained long after the termination of all brain activity.   Thus, there was an urgent need to clarify what constitutes death. By returning to the biophilosophical concept of the loss of an organism as a whole, medical researchers established brain death as the primary clinical determination.

However, once declared brain dead, a patient can still retain some features associated with the living, such as a beating heart.

Among general audiences, these superficial signs of life can cause confusion. Unlike a persistent vegetative state, in which a patient’s brain stem is still functioning – allowing for the patient to breathe on their own and potentially recover – brain death is irrecoverable. This crucial distinction can be made painstakingly clear via a series of clinical tests, but to a lay observer, the differences can be imperceptible. Continue reading »

Electrify your brain…Supercharge your mind?

Society has long fantasized about a day when science would provide technological cures for societal ills such as aggression, impulsive decision-making, and depression. In the popular science fiction TV Show, Star Trek, a medical tricorder was waved over the body, magically probing internal systems and recalibrating problems without any side effects. For some medical illnesses, such a device seems just around the corner (See Qualcomm’s $10 Million Tricorder XPrize; Scanadu Scout). However, for mental illnesses, which are particularly complex and poorly understood, such a solution remains elusive. Nevertheless, several prominent media outlets have drawn attention to the use of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a technique which delivers a low-intensity direct current to modulate the activity of neurons in the cerebral cortex, as an early example of such a fabled device.

Indeed, by utilizing tDCS, researchers at academic medical centers have made widespread reports of its therapeutic effects on a number of neuropsychiatric disorders ranging from major depressive disorder, pain disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, drug addiction, Parkinson’s disease and motor deficits after stroke. Moreover, outside a disease population, researchers have also found that a normal population is capable of benefitting from tDCS – showing increased performance across a variety of cognitive tasks such as attention, memory and decision-making.
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