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

Neuroscience in Court: The Painful Truth

By Sara Reardon | Nature | 25 February 2015

This article features Amanda Pustilnik, the 2014-2015 Senior Fellow in Law & Applied Neuroscience at CLBB and The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. Pustilnik’s involvement in the CLBB Pain & Suffering Working Group and their recent Symposium is cited. Nature also published an editorial on pain imaging in the same issue.

Annie is lying down when she answers the phone; she is trying to recover from a rare trip out of the house. Moving around for an extended period leaves the 56-year-old exhausted and with excruciating pain shooting up her back to her shoulders. “It’s really awful,” she says. “You never get comfortable.”

In 2011, Annie, whose name has been changed at the request of her lawyer, slipped and fell on a wet floor in a restaurant, injuring her back and head. The pain has never eased, and forced her to leave her job in retail.

Annie sued the restaurant, which has denied liability, for several hundred thousand dollars to cover medical bills and lost income. To bolster her case that she is in pain and not just malingering, Annie’s lawyer suggested that she enlist the services of Millennium Magnetic Technologies (MMT), a Connecticut-based neuroimaging company that has a centre in Birmingham, Alabama, where Annie lives. MMT says that it can detect pain’s signature using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures and maps blood flow in the brain as a proxy for neural activity. Continue reading »

The Case for Pain Neuroimaging in the Courtroom: Lessons from Deception Detection

Natalie Salmanowicz | The Journal of Law and the Biosciences | 9 January 2015

From an observer’s perspective, pain is a fairly nebulous concept—it is not externally visible, its cause is not obvious, and perceptions of its intensity are mainly subjective. If difficulties in understanding the source and degree of pain are troublesome in contexts requiring social empathy, they are especially problematic in the legal setting. Tort law applies to both acute and chronic pain cases, but the lack of objective measures demands high thresholds of proof. However, recent developments in pain neuroimaging may clarify some of these inherent uncertainties, as studies purport detection of pain on an individual level. In analyzing the scientific and legal barriers of utilizing pain neuroimaging in court, it is prudent to discuss neuroimaging for deception, a topic that has garnered significant controversy due to premature attempts at introduction in the courtroom. Through comparing and contrasting the two applications of neuroimaging to the legal setting, this paper argues that the nature of tort law, the distinct features of pain, and the reduced vulnerability to countermeasures distinguish pain neuroimaging in a promising way. This paper further contends that the mistakes and lessons involving deception detection are essential to consider for pain neuroimaging to have a meaningful future in court.

Read the full paper here.