Neuroscience at Trial: Society for Neuroethics Convenes Panel of Front-Line Practitioners
Is psychopathy a birth defect that should exclude a convicted serial killer and rapist from the death penalty? Are the results of fMRI lie-detection tests reliable enough to be admitted in court? And if a giant brain tumor suddenly turns a law-abiding professional into a hypersexual who indiscriminately solicits females from ages 8 to 80, is he criminally responsible for his conduct? These were the questions on the table when the International Neuroethics Society convened a fascinating panel last week at the Carnegie Institution for Science last week on the uses of neuroscience evidence in criminal and civil trials.
Moderated and organized by Hank Greely of Stanford Law School, the panel brought together:
- Steven Greenberg, whose efforts to introduce neuroscience on psychopathic disorder (psychopathy) in capital sentencing in Illinois of Brian Dugan has garnered attention from Nature to The Chicago Tribune;
- Houston Gordon (an old-school trial attorney successful enough not to need his own website, hence no hyperlink), who has made the most assertive arguments so far to admit fMRI lie-detection evidence in a civil case, United States v. Semrau, and
- Russell Swerdlow, a research and clinical professor of neurology (and three other sciences!). Swerdlow’s brilliant diagnostic work detected the tumor in the newly-hypersexual patient, whom others had dismissed as a creep and a criminal.
In three upcoming short posts, I will feature the comments of each of these panelists and present for you, dear reader, some of the thornier issues raised by their talks. These cases have been reported on in publications ranging from the Archives of Neurology to USA Today, but Concurring Opinions brings to you, direct and uncensored, the statements of the lawyers and scientists who made these cases happen … Can I say “stay tuned” on a blog?