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

Humanizing Pain: Advocacy, Policy and Law on Abortion, Execution and Juvenile Life Without Parole

By Robert Kinscherff, Senior Fellow in Law & Applied Neuroscience

I recently attended a presentation on Fetal Pain: An Update on the Science and Legal Implications, jointly sponsored by the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior (Massachusetts General Hospital) and the Petrie-Flom Center (Harvard Law School). Presenters were Amanda Pustilnik, JD (University of Maryland School of Law) and Maureen Strafford, MD (Tufts University School of Medicine). Video of the event is available on the website, and I encourage everyone to watch the full discussion for themselves.

Doctor Strafford delivered a masterful overview of the trajectory of scientific perspective and research about children and pain. Over the course of her career, the medical perspective has transformed from “children do not feel pain” to “children do not remember pain” to inquiry into “when and how children feel pain.” Strafford described the medical complexities of understanding the physical and subjective aspects of pain as well as the impossibility of confidently “pinpointing” the exact point in fetal development when a neonate experiences pain.

Professor Pustilnik gave an equally compelling review of law and legal language regarding abortion, particularly law that specifically references fetal pain as a reason for limiting abortion.   This served to frame a conversation about pain and suffering in the law and the ways in which law reflects normative considerations and provides rhetoric (viewed respectively by partisans as “compelling” or “inflammatory”) to political discourse. In this case, discourse about fetal pain both attracts attention and is intended to facilitate empathy for the neonate.

Taken together, Pustilnik and Strafford made a powerful case that the current discourse about fetal pain reflects a strategic communication strategy intended to advance the cause of abortion opponents. Continue reading »

Juvenile Crime is Down and High School Graduation is Up: Good News or Distraction?

By Robert Kinscherff, Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience

At first glance it seems like unequivocal good news: Juvenile crime rates are at approximately the same levels as the early 1970’s and high school graduation rates have risen from 65 percent four years ago to 82 percent in 2013-2014. But, a closer look suggests a different picture under the surface of this aggregate national data.  Continue reading »

Changes in Seasons, Changes for Children

By Robert Kinscherff, Senior Fellow in Law & Applied Neuroscience

It is fitting that I am writing this first blog of my time as Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience as we transition through the change of seasons.  It is a privilege to have the time afforded by this joint Fellowship between Harvard Law School (Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics) and Massachusetts General Hospital (Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior) to focus upon the intersections of behavioral science, developmental neuroscience, and juvenile justice.  The autumnal change of seasons is a fitting metaphor for the slow but profound changes occurring in juvenile justice which have been spurred in large measure by emerging neuroscience increasingly describing the neurobiology of adolescence.  This neuroscience provides the biological complement to what developmental psychologists have well described and what parents have long known:  Children are different. Continue reading »

WATCH – “From Troubled Teens to Tsarnaev: Promises and Perils of Adolescent Neuroscience and Law”

Click to enlarge poster.

Click to enlarge poster.

The neuroscience of adolescent brain development has had increasing impact on American jurisprudence. The U.S. Supreme Court relied on this neuroscience in Roper v. Simmons (2005) in barring execution for capital crimes committed as a juvenile and in Miller v. Alabama (2012) in holding that mandatory life without possibility of parole for juveniles is also unconstitutional.

On Monday, September 28, 2015, CLBB and the Petrie-Flom Center assembled a panel of developmental scientists, clinicians, and legal scholars for a panel discussion examining the implications of developmental neuroscience for law in specific domains including death penalty mitigation for young adults over age 18 such as the Tsarnaev case, a developmentally informed view of Miranda and Competence to Stand Trial for juveniles, trial of youth as adults, and conditions of confinement in juvenile and adult incarceration.

The panel discussed the promises and perils for constitutional jurisprudence, legal and public policy reform, and trial practice of relying upon a complex body of science as it emerges. Scroll down to view complete video from the event.

This event is part of the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, a collaboration between the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. 

Continue reading »

CLBB Faculty Members on Psychology and Juvenile Justice

CLBB Faculty Members Robert Kinscherff and Gina Vincent contributed to the new American Psychological Association Handbook of Psychology and Juvenile Justice. The handbook “consolidates and advances the knowledge about the legal, scientific, and applied foundations of the juvenile justice system”, and includes sections on relevant law, human development, risk factors for and patterns of offending, forensic assessment, interventions, training, and ethics. Dr. Kinscherff wrote a chapter entitled, “Distinguishing and Assessing Treatment Needs and Amenability to Rehabilitation”, and co-authored a chapter around ethical issues in psychology and juvenile justice with Gerald P. Koocher. Dr. Vincent co-authored the chapter entitled, “Juvenile Psychopathy: Appropriate and Inappropriate Uses in Legal Proceedings”.

Order the APA Handbook of Psychology and Juvenile Justice today!