“My brain made me do it”: are we ready for more Neurolaw?

I’m excited to say that my book Biological Determinism, Free Will and Moral Responsibility: Insights from Genetics and Neuroscience is being published this week.

determinism cover

There are 5 chapters, in which I have attempted to pull together threads from moral philosophy, from law and from neuroscience to examine the growth of Neurolaw. Around the world, notably the USA and Italy, an increasing number of defendants are appealing to their genes or issues with the structure and function of their brain as mitigation for their crimes. To what extent should we allow this, now or in the future?

Chapter summaries:

  • Free will and determinism: an overview of some of the main schools of thought regarding the “free will problem” – Libertarianism, Compatibilism and Hard Determinism.
  • Existing legislation on mental disorders and criminal cases: automatism, criminal liability, diminished responsibility, “disease of the mind”, insanity, mens rea and M’Naghten.
  • Biological basis of behaviour: background on behavioural genetics and the use of various brain imaging techniques to investigate the extent to which our behaviour might be “hard wired”.
  • Use of genetic and neuroscientific evidence in criminal cases: a brief history of neurolaw. Summarises many of the key cases in which scientific evidence has been proffered by in criminal cases as (partial) justification of the behaviour of the defendant.
  • Are we ready for an expanded use of neuroscientific evidence in the courtroom?: In which I caution that the current use of genetic and brain physiology evidence is, at best, premature and uncertain.

Book review: Rethinking Informed Consent

I mentioned in a previous post that I was currently reading Neil Manson and Onora O’Neill’s book Rethinking Informed Consent in Bioethics (Cambridge University Press, 2007). Not only did I finish it, but I summarised the content for a recent meeting of our Medical Sociology group – see slides, below.

As I hinted in the earlier post, I found it a hugely thought-provoking book. My colleagues, by enlarge, were less impressed – they wanted to know where any engagement was with the extensive literature on the sociological dimensions of consent.

I too have some reservations – I share the authors’ concerns that there is a lot wrong with current informed consent and data protection legislation. They suggest a radically different model for alternative priorities based on consent as waivers to permit clinicians and/or researchers to carry out specific procedures that would not otherwise be allowed in accordance with normal ethical and legal rules. They do close the book with suggestions for a series of more subtle changes, however in keeping with the old joke about someone stopping a local to ask for travel directions, I fear that “you can’t get there from here”.