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

CLBB Welcomes New Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience!

We’re excited to announce our 2017–2018 Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience, Francis X. Shen!

Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience

The Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, now entering its fourth year, is a collaboration between the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. The collaboration includes a Senior Fellow in residence, public symposia, and a Law and Neuroscience Seminar at Harvard Law School taught by the Hon. Nancy Gertner. For more information, see the full press release on the launch of the program.

2017­–2018 Senior Fellow

Francis X. Shen, PhD, JD is the third Senior Fellow in Law and Neuroscience. Shen is currently an Associate Professor of Law and McKnight Presidential Fellow at the University of Minnesota; affiliated faculty at the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital; and Executive Director of Education and Outreach for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. Shen received his JD from Harvard Law School, and his PhD in Government and Social Policy from Harvard.

As Senior Fellow, he will pursue original research, mentoring, and public engagement on legal issues related to the aging brain, dementia, traumatic brain injury, and the law. Activities will include expert symposia and public events to promote focused discussion on how the law can more effectively respond to aging brain issues including dementia and traumatic brain injury.

Shen’s goal during his fellowship year will be to foster this interdisciplinary dialogue on dementia and the law. The Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience will assess the utility of law’s traditional approaches to capacity and undue influence in light of emerging science on the neurobiology of dementia; consider the future legal utility and ethics of new biomarkers for dementia; and begin developing new theoretical and practical frameworks for more fairly and effectively adjudicating cases in which dementia plays a role.

Please join us in welcoming Francis Shen to the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior!

To learn more about the Project’s 2017–2018 Area of Inquiry, Dementia and the Law, visit the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience website!

WATCH — The Mayhem of a Misdiagnosis

Click poster to RSVP.

In this event, the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior will present a case that concerns a tragic trajectory caused by undetected brain disease and the interpersonal and larger societal havoc that can be wreaked by a misdiagnosis. Weaving a narrative that highlights the subject’s personal life and neurological decline, experts in psychiatry, law, and neurology will consider: what can be done to prevent the mayhem of a misdiagnosis?

This event will be held on Tuesday, March 7, 2017, at Interface (140 W. 30th Street, New York, NY), from 6:00-8:00 pm.

Make sure to RSVP before the event!

This event is co-sponsored by New America and the MGH Center for Law, Brain & Behavior. 

Watch video of the entire event below!

WATCH — The Vulnerable Brain

161215_the-vulnerable-brain

Click poster to RSVP.

As the American population ages, the medical and legal systems will have to balance concerns about protecting the elderly from fraud and victimization with fundamental autonomy rights. In this event, the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior will present a case that concerns a tragic trajectory caused by undetected brain disease and discuss both missed opportunities to intervene and the implications for legal and social policy. Weaving a narrative that highlights the subject’s personal life and neurological decline, experts in psychiatry, law, and neurology will consider: what can be done to protect the vulnerable, aging brain?

Examining everything from forensic reports, to medical records, to a literal brain, CLBB Co-Director Dr. Judith Edersheim and CLBB Faculty Member Dr. Brad Dickerson (of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School) will tell a story that exemplifies how vulnerable an ailing, elderly person can be. CLBB Co-Director Dr. Bruce Price will join as a discussant during the Q&A session with the audience.

This event will be held on Thursday, December 15, 2016, at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Bornstein Amphitheater, from 7:00-8:30 pm.

Make sure to RSVP before the event!

This event is free and open to the public. A brief reception will precede the event from 6:30-7:00 PM. Continue reading »

Clinical Approach to the Differential Diagnosis Between Behavioral Variant Frontotemporal Dementia and Primary Psychiatric Disorders

By Simon Ducharme, Bruce H. Price, Mykol Larvie, Darin D. Dougherty, and Bradford C. Dickerson | American Journal of Psychiatry | September 1, 2015

Summary:

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) describes a heterogeneous group of neurodegenerative diseases featuring various combinations of behavioral changes, language abnormalities, social cognitive impairment, and executive function deficits. FTD is divided into two major clinical syndromes: the behavioral variant (bvFTD) (1) and the language variants referred to as primary progressive aphasias (2).

Identifying bvFTD is challenging because symptoms can be subtle in the early stages, and they may combine features that are traditionally within the realm of psychiatry (e.g., personality changes, lack of empathy, compulsions) and others usually seen by neurologists (e.g., aphasia, cognitive impairments). Patients are often first evaluated in general psychiatric settings, and about 50% are initially diagnosed with a primary psychiatric illness (3).

Knowledge about FTD has grown exponentially over the past 10 years, and it is crucial for psychiatrists to include bvFTD as part of their differential diagnosis in a wide range of adult psychiatric disorders. In this article, we review the clinical approach to bvFTD, focusing in particular on the differential diagnosis between bvFTD and primary psychiatric disorders.

Read the full paper here.

In an Iowa courtroom, an astonishing case of sex and Alzheimer’s

By Sarah Kaplan | The Washington Post | April 7, 2015

They started flirting in choir, the vivacious retiree and the grandfatherly politician, both single after the deaths of their longtime spouses. Less than two years later, they were married in the church where they met, surrounded by a gaggle of children and grandchildren and hundreds of guests dancing the polka. It was an unexpected second chance at love for Donna Lou Young and Henry Rayhons, both past 70 at the time of their wedding.

“They were two good people who were good together,” the couple’s pastor recalled.

After a four-year battle with Alzheimer’s, Donna Lou Rayhons died in a nursing home in August, just four days shy of her 79th birthday. A week later, Henry Rayhons was arrested and charged with sexual abuse. State prosecutors accused him of having sex with his wife while she was incapacitated by dementia. Continue reading »