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

Healing in the Wake of Community Violence

Join us for a film screening and panel discussion on challenges that arise from tragic acts of community violence. The event will begin with a screening of Newtown, a documentary examining the impact of the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. The screening will be followed by a panel of experts in health law policy, the neurobiology of trauma, and community approaches to violence in a discussion of public health, gun violence, and responses to community trauma. Discussion will highlight the issue of “healing the helpers”—the first responders, medical staff, clergy, mental health providers, and others who respond to the needs of victims, families, and communities in the wake of community violence.

This event will take place on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 4:00 pm in Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East ABC, Harvard Law School (1585 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA). It is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and registration is required. Register here.

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The Reckoning

Adam and Peter Lanza

Peter Lanza’s new house, on a secluded private road in Fairfield County, Connecticut, is an attic room overflowing with shipping crates of what he calls “the stuff.” Since the day in December, 2012, when his son Adam killed his own mother, himself, and twenty-six people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, strangers from across the world have sent thousands upon thousands of letters and other keepsakes: prayer shawls, Bibles, Teddy bears, homemade toys; stories with titles such as “My First Christmas in Heaven”; crosses, including one made by prison inmates. People sent candy, too, and when I visited Peter, last fall, he showed me a bag of year-old caramels. He had not wanted to throw away anything that people sent. But he said, “I was wary about eating anything,” and he didn’t let Shelley Lanza—his second wife—eat any of the candy, either. There was no way to be sure it wasn’t poisoned. Downstairs, in Peter’s home office, I spotted a box of family photographs. He used to display them, he told me, but now he couldn’t look at Adam, and it seemed strange to put up photos of his older son, Ryan, without Adam’s. “I’m not dealing with it,” he said. Later, he added, “You can’t mourn for the little boy he once was. You can’t fool yourself.”

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Mental Illness, Violence and the Gun Control Debate: Evidence, Policy, Privacy and Stigma

Violence is a natural, human behavior, key to both our evolution as a species and to the reproductive success for many an individual vying for scarce food or mating opportunities.  And yet in our modern society, violence is often an unnatural, senseless act, borne out of impulsive aggression — without consideration for the future consequences — or at times, due to gross distortions of reality as can occur for individuals with severe mental illness.

While mental illness is a rare cause of violence, accounting for 3-5% of the violence that reaches our courts, it nonetheless figures prominently in the cultural understanding of violence, particularly since several recent high-profile mass killings involved individuals with clear suggestions of brewing or established psychotic illness.

How can society translate the science of violence and mental illness into practical public health policies that would better protect everyone?

A year after the Sandy Hook massacre, the world seems no closer to understanding why such a horrific act occurred in the case of Adam Lanza, who committed suicide and left few traces of his motives.  It’s no surprise that parents of victims are so desperate for answers and solution that they would entertain imposing routine brain check-ups through a functional MRI scan for those at risk for violence.  Their motives are clear and noble: they want to understand the root causes of violence and find ways that society can protect other children and families from having to undergo the same unimaginable pain and loss they continue to experience every day.  And yet, such a measure would almost certainly represent a violation of several constitutional rights, not to mention being impractical, well beyond the capabilities of the science, and probably by most peoples’ standards, a swing of the pendulum well beyond our comfort zone in the ongoing balance of individual autonomy and public safety.

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