- Published: June 8, 2015
In light of all the newfound knowledge gained through neurobiological research, a proposal on reforming the criminal justice system and implementing a personalized therapy program makes sense, at least from a utilitarian point of view. After all, if the goal of the justice system is to maintain order in a society, then its sentencing system ought to be based on the probability of recidivism rather than on retribution for a criminal’s past actions.
The prospect of personalized therapy to help rehabilitate one’s brain is very interesting, but with this hypothetical treatment come new ethical dilemmas. Research in the field of neuroregenerative medicine (NRM) has traditionally been viewed as potentially treating diseases that cause neuronal deterioration, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple schlerosis (1). The ability to stimulate neurogenesis in portions of one’s brain, however, need not be restricted to treating disease alone. If novel treatments could stimulate neuronal growth in areas of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex, NRM could potentially be a method of rehabilitation for criminals that are deficient in this area.
However, some people fear that the use of NRM therapies, or specifically the stimulation of unnatural neuronal growth in areas of the brain “may fundamentally change the self: it’s not just a matter of enhancing an organ’s function. It’s potentially changing who we are” (1). This belief in our sense of “self” will always be an important topic when considering possible treatment regimes. Is it ethical to alter a criminal’s very identity and sense of self, in order to help them assimilate into society?
- Grunwell, J., Illes, J., and K. Karkazis. 2008. Advancing Neuroregenerative Medicine: a Call for Expanded Collaboration Between Scientists and Ethicists. Neuroethics. (DOI 10.1007/s12152-008-9025-5)