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

WATCH — Fetal Pain: An Update on the Science and Legal Implications

Click to enlarge event poster.

Click to enlarge event poster.

On Wednesday, February 10, Amanda Pustilnik, JD and Maureen Strafford MD will discuss fetal pain, including advances in neuroscience and treatment and their implications for the law.

The event will be held at 12:00 pm on Wednesday, February 10, in Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East C (2036) at Harvard Law School (1585 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA).

This event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be served.

Continue reading »

Amanda Pustilnik to Help Develop Standards for Legal Uses of Brain Imaging

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) has convened a pioneering working group to develop international standards for the legal uses of brain imaging, a group that will include CLBB Faculty Member and former Fellow in Law & Applied Neuroscience, Amanda Pustilnik. This will be the first body to set international standards for legal and policy uses of brain imaging, advancing law, policy, and human outcomes in the pain area. Additionally, it will provide a model for how to set standards in all areas where law may turn to brain imaging relating to the brain’s production of sensation, affect, and behavior. This initiative was in part prompted by the ideas raised at CLBB’s recent conference,  “Visible Solutions: How Neuroimaging Helps Law Re-envision Pain”.

Congratulations to Amanda Pustilnik for being part of this trailblazing effort!

Imaging Brains, Changing Minds: How Pain Neuroimaging Can Inform the Law

By Amanda Pustilnik | Alabama Law Review | 2015

Abstract:

What would the law do differently if it could see into the black box of the mind? One of the most valuable things it might do is reform the ways it deals with pain. Pain is ubiquitous in law, from tort to torture, from ERISA to expert evidence. Yet legal doctrines grapple with pain poorly, embodying concepts that are generations out of date and that cast suspicion on pain sufferers as having a problem that is “all in their heads.”

Now, brain-imaging technologies are allowing scientists to see the brain in pain—and to reconceive of many types of pain as neurodegenerative diseases. Brain imaging proves that the problem is in sufferers’ heads: Long-term pain shrinks the brain and changes the way it functions.

This new science has immediate practical and theoretical applications for the law. This Article first proposes reforms to disability law doctrines and their judicial interpretation. It then proposes ways in which pain neuroimaging ought to be handled as a matter of expert evidence in state, federal, and administrative proceedings. Drawing on work in evidence theory, it considers black letter evidence law as well as normative practices that shape how decision makers weigh evidence and credibility. It also offers limits on the use of brain images.

In opening a window into how the brain generates subjective experiences, neuroimaging should lead to doctrinal and practice-based revisions that increase law’s accuracy and fairness. So doing, brain imaging should change the law’s mind about the nature of pain and may require the law to rethink its dualism between body and mind.

Continue reading the paper here.

 

“And if Your Friends Jumped Off a Bridge, Would you Do it Too?” – How Developmental Neuroscience can Inform Legal Regimes Governing Adolescence

By Michael N. Tennison and Amanda C. Pustilnik | Indiana Health Law Review

Introduction

On September 17, 2014, a teen boy riding in the front seat of an SUV on the highway at night had a brilliant idea: If he set the driver’s armpit hair on fire, it might impress the girls in the back. It did not turn out quite the way he planned. “Teen Setting Underarm Hair On Fire Causes Rollover Crash,” reported news outlets the next day. The SUV ran into a ditch, flipped over, and threw three of the five occupants—all teenagers, none of whom were wearing seat belts—out onto the highway. Miraculously, no one was killed.

This story is humorous and serious all at once. Humorous, because it embodies a head-shaking truth long acknowledged in our and other cultures about the crazy things kids do. Serious, because the thoughtless yet typical action of one boy could have seriously hurt or killed these four children and possibly other people on the highway that night. And it has a serious message: Teens are different from adults, on average, particularly in ways that relate to the overvaluation of present rewards and sensations, the undervaluation of negative risk, the tremendous salience of their desire for peer approval, and their tendency to act in even more risky and thoughtless ways when they are together in groups.

Continue reading the article here.

What Should the Future Look Like for Brain-Based Pain Imaging in the Law? Three Eminent Scholars Weigh In

By Amanda C. Pustilnik, Professor of Law, University of Maryland Carey School of Law

What should the future look like for brain-based pain measurement in the law?  This is the question tackled by our concluding three contributors:  Diane Hoffmann, Henry (“Hank”) T. Greely, and Frank Pasquale. Professors Hoffmann and Greely are among the founders of the fields of health law and law & biosciences. Both discuss parallels to the development of DNA evidence in court and the need for similar standards, practices, and ethical frameworks in the brain imaging area.  Professor Pasquale is an innovative younger scholar who brings great theoretical depth, as well as technological savvy, to these fields.  Their perspectives on the use of brain imaging in legal settings, particularly for pain measurement, illuminate different facets of this issue.

This post describes their provocative contributions – which stake out different visions but also reinforce each other.  The post also highlights the forthcoming conference-based book with Oxford University Press and introduces future directions for the use of the brain imaging of pain – in areas as diverse as the law of torture, the death penalty, drug policy, criminal law, and animal rights and suffering.  Please read on!  Continue reading »