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

Does America Have PTSD?

By Judith Edersheim and Kenneth M. McCullough | The Huffington Post | July 27, 2016

America is afraid. There is fear of daily new terror attacks here or abroad. There is growing fear of rampant domestic gun violence. Fear that this person or that is ruining the country. It is fear aimed outward: witness the pervasive discourse of threat at the recent Republican National Convention. It is fear aimed inward: witness our 2.2 million people behind bars, a highly disproportionate number of whom are people of color. If our country were a person, we would view that person as anxious, reactive and reeling from years of trauma: major symptoms of PTSD.

Continue reading »

The Truth About Gun Violence and Mental Illness

By Judith Edersheim | The Huffington Post | August 18, 2015

Written with Olamide Abiose, M.Ed.

The recent shooting tragedies — Lafayette, Chattanooga — and the recent sentencing of Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, have once again thrust mental illness into the center of our national dialogue. A wave of politicians and public figures — from Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), to Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and the National Rifle Association — have proposed legislation encouraging greater public access to mental health records, as key to addressing gun violence. It seems many Americans are operating under Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s logic: “Look, every time this happens, it seems like the person has a history of mental illness. We need to make sure that the systems in place actually work.”

While it’s always refreshing to see high-profile calls for a properly functioning mental health system, one has to wonder, where were such calls when we learned that there are ten times as many mentally ill people in jails and prisons than in mental health institutions? Where was the outrage when state budgets slashed funding for psychiatric services, and cut nearly $4.5 billion in services to the mentally ill between 2009 and 2012? Where was the public support for increased access to mental health treatment after The Washington Post recently reported that a person in the throes of a mental health crisis is shot and killed by the police every 36 hours?

Why didn’t we care that the system didn’t work then? Continue reading »

Cruel and All-Too-Usual

By Dana Liebelson | The Huffington Post | July 1, 2015

When the video above was filmed, the girl on the bed was 17 years old. For the purposes of this story, I’ll call her Jamie. There was a time when she liked acting in goofy comedy skits at her Detroit church or crawling into bed with her grandmother to watch TV. She loved to sing—her favorite artist was Chris Brown—but she was too shy to perform in front of other people.

Jamie, whose mother was addicted to crack cocaine, was adopted when she was 3. At high school, she fell in with a wayward crowd and started drinking and smoking weed. Since she didn’t always get along with her adoptive mom, she lived with a close family friend from her church whom she referred to as her sister. One fall day in 2011, they got into a bad fight over their living arrangements. The friend told police that Jamie threw a brick at her, hitting her in the chest, and then banged the brick so hard on the front door that she broke the glass mail chute. Jamie denies the assault—and the police report notes that the brick may not have hit her friend—but she admitted to officers that she was “mad” and “trying to get back in the house.” The Wayne County court gave her two concurrent six-month sentences, for assault and destruction of a building.

In a wealthier Michigan county, kids convicted of minor offenses are almost always sentenced to community service, like helping out at the local science center. Doug Mullkoff, a criminal defense attorney in Ann Arbor, told me that prison in such circumstances is “virtually unheard of.” But Jamie is from Detroit, and in January 2012, she was sent to the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, a prison that holds inmates convicted of crimes like first-degree homicide. From this point onward, her world was largely governed by codes and practices and assumptions designed for adult criminals. Continue reading »

Junk Science: The Fallacy of Fetal “Pain”

By David A. Grimes | The Huffington Post | March 14, 2015

In March of 2015, the West Virginia legislature overrode the Governor’s veto of HB 2568, the “Pain-Cable Unborn Child Protection Act.” As noted by the Governor, who vetoed a similar bill last year, the bill is unconstitutional. Arizona passed a similar law in 2012, and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of appeals struck down the law as blatantly unconstitutional. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the appellate court decision, which means that the law’s rejection as unconstitutional stands. Undeterred, West Virginia has now repeated the error.

When realtors dictate the practice of medicine, everyone loses. The West Virginia bill features junk science and other glaring deficiencies. The caption of the bill is illustrative: It has two different errors, one medical and one semantic. First, a fetus is incapable of experiencing pain. Second, a child cannot reside in the uterus. Use of a dictionary resolves the semantic problem, but what is the evidence concerning the notion of fetal “pain”? Continue reading »

Video: Will insanity save Scott Panetti from execution? Dr. Judith Edersheim on HuffPostLive

Texas plans to execute a paranoid schizophrenic tomorrow. Activists are pleading with Governor Perry or the Supreme Court to intervene. Is this “cruel and unusual punishment”? How should the law handle mad people who commit capital crimes?

CLBB’s Dr. Judith Edersheim participated in a HuffPostLive conversation to discuss the insanity defense in light of the case of Scott Panetti, who was sentenced to die for the 1992 murder of his wife’s parents. At his murder trial, acting as his own defense lawyer, he dressed as a cowboy and called on Jesus, John F. Kennedy, and the Pope as witnesses. Panetti has been hospitalized many times since for psychosis and delusions.

View the conversation below, or on HuffPostLive, which also included Dahlia Lithwick, Slate legal affairs correspondent; George Parnham, criminal defense attorney; and Heather Beaudoin, of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Josh Zepps hosted. Continue reading »