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

Dispatch: “Neuro-interventions and the Law” Conference

Dr. Ekaterina Pivovarova

Dr. Ekaterina Pivovarova

On September 12-14, 2014, the Atlanta Neuroethics Consortium was held at Georgia State University. The topic, Neuro-Interventions and the Law: Regulating Human Mental Capacity, brought together leading scholars on philosophy, neuroscience, law, cognitive and clinical psychology, psychiatry, and bioethics. The participants included Judge Andre Davis, Nita Farahany, Stephen Morse, Francis Shen, Walter Sinnot-Armstrong, Nicole Vincent, and Paul Root Wolpe. The conference panels, talks, and keynotes addressed pressing issues about managing and appropriately utilizing novel neuroscientific technologies as they relate to legal issues. Continue reading »

CLBB Director of Law & Ethics to lead HMS Master’s Program in Bioethics

As of fall 2014, CLBB Director of Law & Ethics Rebecca W. Brendel, JD, MD, will join the Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics to lead the development of a new Master’s Program in Bioethics. Originally established as the Division of Medical Ethics, The Center was rebranded in spring 2014 to serve as a convener for faculty who will collaborate with the ethics services at the HMS affiliates and with ethics programs at schools throughout Harvard University. Dr. Brendel will develop and then lead the new Master’s Program in Bioethics at HMS.

The Master of Bioethics Degree, beginning fall 2015, will combine resources from the Center for Bioethics, Harvard teaching hospitals, and departments across the University in a one-year full time course of study and is open to working professionals holding a terminal degree in any discipline. A core group of applicants is expected from medicine, law, nursing, public health, social work, public policy, scientific and biotechnology research, journalism, and business.

Rebecca W. Brendel

Dr. Brendel is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of Law & Ethics at CLBB. An expert consult-liaison psychiatrist and ethicist, Dr. Brendel has published widely on issues including voluntary psychiatric hospitalization (2014), evaluation of capacity to appoint a healthcare proxy (2013), and legal issues including mandatory reporting and informed consent (2010).

Dr. Brendel will be stepping down as Clinical Director of the Home Base Program — a collaboration of the Red Sox Foundation and MGH — in order to step into the new role at the Center for Bioethics.  Continue reading »

Hank Greely: Neuroimaging, Mindreading, and the Courts

Neuroimaging is making subjective mental states, like physical and emotional pain, visible and verifiable. How much should the law change with this new insight into the mind? Professor Hank Greely of the Stanford School of Law shares an optimistic yet cautious exploration of these cutting-edge issues in law & neuroscience. Dr. Greely is Director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences and former Co-director of the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project.

The talk was delivered as the Stuart Rome Lecture during the conference “Imaging the Brain, Changing Minds: Chronic Pain Neuroimaging and the Law,” at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law on April 24, 2014, presented in part by the Law & Health Care Program.

Bioethics Commission Plays Early Role in BRAIN Initiative

Calling for the integration of ethics across the life of neuroscientific research endeavors, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) released volume one of its two-part response to President Obama’s request related to the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. The report, Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society, includes four recommendations for institutions and individuals engaged in neuroscience research including government agencies and other funders.

“Neurological conditions—which include addiction, chronic pain, dementia, depression, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, stroke, and traumatic brain injury, among other conditions—affect more than one billion people globally. Neuroscience has begun to make important breakthroughs, but given the complexity of the brain, we must better understand it in order to make desired progress,” said Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., Bioethics Commission Chair. “But because research on our brains strikes at the very core of who we are, the ethical stakes of neuroscience research could not be higher.  Ethicists and scientists should be together at the table in the earliest stages of research planning fostering a fluent two-way conversation.  Too often in our nation’s past, ethical lapses in research have had tragic consequences and derailed scientific progress.” Continue reading »

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 »