- Published: January 7, 2014
Not too long ago, obtaining images of the brain was something fascinatingly new. Today, using these images in the courtroom to make legal decisions about criminal acts is a new concept – neurolaw or neuroethics. A few years from now, should it be surprising that these same brain scans be used by teachers and hiring agencies to evaluate the capabilities and personalities of their students and new employees?
“Evidence” for immoral judgment caused by brain damage has already been introduced to the courtroom, but how ethical is the subject of scanning a child’s brain, possibly at merely the consent of the parents, to obtain information about a disruptive behavior or neurological disorder? Judy Illes and Thomas Raffin discuss the ethics of neuroscience in light of children in their article called “No Child Left Behind without a Brain Scan? Toward a Pediatric Neuroethics.”
If a child is suffering from dyslexia or a teenager is getting involved in drugs, in the near future will teachers and parents use information from his/her brain to help alleviate these troubles? If so, it will need to be determined how early in a child’s life is too early to start gathering information about “the development of cognitive and behavioral traits in children.” If the child is overly disruptive in a public school class and is abusing Child B, and Child B’s mom complains to the teacher, is it ethical to force the child to have his brain checked out? If so, who should pay for the scan and treatment if necessary – the government?
From a parent’s perspective, it is understandable why early detection of an irregular development pattern in a child is more desirable – problems identified early on have a better chance of getting “repaired” and less of a chance for getting worse. (On the other side, too, it would be an added plus if we could know early on that 2-year-old Jenny will grow up to have the necessary skills to become one heck of a piano player). One way to find out these things, of course, is by neuroimaging. But is it ethical to put a young child through a scanner at the discretion of a parent, or even a doctor? How is this different from using a machine to find out the sex of an unborn baby? In the end, both just tell us what we’ll eventually find out anyway. Illes and Raffin bring up a good point that if something in the early brain scan detects that the child will have a major dysfunctional disorder later on in life, the parents (perhaps unconsciously at first) are likely to see their child differently: “Would you want a scan that provided information afﬁrming your child’s giftedness—or the possibility of a brain disease preventing cognitive development, but for which there is currently no cure?”
With the advent of using neuroscience in the courtroom, it doesn’t seem like it would be all too long before we have to start dealing with the questions and the ethics, too, of neuroscience in the classroom.
http://www.dana.org/news/cerebrum/detail.aspx?id=768 by Judy Illes, Thomas Raffin; March 2005