The Legal Implications of Detecting Alzheimer’s Disease Earlier

In addition to my work as an historian, I am also a JD/MA Bioethics candidate at the University of Minnesota Law School. Ever since I first read David Eagleman's book Incognito (2011), I've been enamored with the field of "neurolaw," i.e. the intersection of law and neuroscience. I've been lucky to pursue this interest professionally, setting out … Continue reading The Legal Implications of Detecting Alzheimer’s Disease Earlier

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Once again we are reminded that not every brain develops the same

In the fall 2012, I briefly left the University of Minnesota Morris to do a series of directed studies in Houston, TX. One of these included attending Dr. David Eagleman's "Neuroscience and Law" course at Rice University, which required that we write for the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law's blog. This was originally published September 26, … Continue reading Once again we are reminded that not every brain develops the same

Neuromodulation, Or “Every Science Lab Needs a Philosopher”

If a fundamental question in neurolaw is how the legal system should move forward with the specific brain on trial, then the major role neuroscience can play in the courtroom is in the sentencing process. In fact, after identifying the biology that may have predisposed an individual to criminal behavior, attention must be paid to how sentencing - the rehabilitation process - can effectively be carried out. For example, if it was a malformed frontal lobe that unfairly led an individual to give in to an irresistable impulse, neuroscience plays the dual role of identifying this malformity and how best to correct it. ...

The natural sciences can inform rather than dictate our public policy

In an article titled "Can Neuroscience Challenge Roe v. Wade?" William Egginton, professor in the Humanities at John Hopkins University, cautions us to be careful in how we use the natural sciences to shape public policy. In this case, abortion rights. Egginton writes about attorney Rick Hearn's suits against Idaho's Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act "and others like it that cite neuroscientific findings of pain sentience on the part of fetuses as a basis for prohibiting abortions even prior to viability." The reason for this is because Hearn believes that the government is using results from the natural sciences "as a basis for expanding or contracting the rights of its citizens." The logic goes like this: if it can be proven that fetuses are capable of pain then they are conscious and thus a person deserving of their full rights under the constitution. This clearly has political overtones. ...

Literary Neuroscience as Rehabilitation? (Or, ‘Prevent Crime; Employ English Majors’)

According to neurolaw, a successful and just legal system will be one that concerns itself with the steps moving forward with the specific brain on trial. If our behavior is influenced by our biology and circumstance, it is irreducibly complex to assess a criminal’s culpability in a way that is both satisfying and scientifically-informed. Instead of comparing and judging the sizes of one’s frontal lobe or another part’s propensity for firing (or not firing) certain chemicals while also factoring in one’s upbringing and the effects social institutions can have on our behavior, our legal system should focus on rehabilitation rather than strict punishment. ...

The Atlanta Neuroethics Consortium: Neuro-Interventions and the Law

This is my “Voices in Bioethics” write-up of last month’s Atlanta Neuroethics Consortium. It was my first foray into the law and neuroscience world — and I loved it. What I don’t talk about is my experience using Couchsurfing.com (great!) or why I missed the Sunday panel.

With my flight leaving Sunday evening, I spent the morning walking to the Carter Presidential Library but gave up when I realized I’d never make it. Compensated by visiting the Martin Luther King Historic Site. Very good.

Voices in Bioethics

by Joshua Preston 

Recently, I attended the Atlanta Neuroethics Consortium’s (ANEC) conference on Neuro-Interventions and the Law: Regulating Human Mental Capacity (September 12-14). Hosted by Professor Dr. Nicole Vincent, it was my first foray into the “neurolaw” world. Most of the attendees and keynote speakers were pulled from the MacArthur Foundation’s Law and Neuroscience Research Network, and because of this, I was impressed by the cross-disciplinary representation. The conference included experts in the biological sciences and psychiatry as well as legal scholars and practicing judges. Additionally, I must add, it was free, which is the best price.

The opening keynote from Vincent laid out the major topics that would be explored over the next three days. In it she outlined her taxonomy of the relationship between responsibility and mental capacity (i.e., how does an individual’s cognitive abilities affect our expectations of them?). Each panel addressed…

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Gillian Bennett & Physician-Assisted Suicide

Did you know that you don’t have a constitutional right to die and physician-assisted suicide is legal in only five states? Here’s my latest article for Columbia’s Voices in Bioethics. In it I discuss the death of Gillian Bennett and euthanasia laws in both Canada and the United States.

Voices in Bioethics

by Joshua Preston 

“I want out before the day when I can no longer assess my situation,” wrote Gillian Bennett, a Vancouver woman, in an open letter to be published after her death. “[I] will be physically alive but there will be no one inside.” Addressing the dementia she had been living with for three years: “[M]uch faster now, I am turning into a vegetable … Dementia gives no quarter and admits no bargaining.” So, dragging a mattress to her favorite spot, on August 18, 2014, Bennett, age 83, self-administered a lethal dose of barbiturates and passed with her husband holding her hand.

In Canada, physician-assisted suicide (PAS) is illegal, leaving individuals with degenerative illnesses to make these decisions on their one without the resources available to most hospitals. As Bennett observed, if she wished to resist becoming a vegetable, this was her only option –…

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