- Published: June 8, 2015
With advances in neuroimaging, not only can we imagine using techniques like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to detect a lie, but we can now also possibly use them to detect pain. Such a possibility has significant implications for our legal system and the numerous amounts of “pain and suffering” claims made. Adam Kolber addresses this possibility in an article (Pain Detection and the Privacy of Subjective Experience) from the American Journal of Law & Medicine.
According to Kolber, when subjects are exposed to painful stimuli, particular regions of their brain’s cortex increases in activation, and the greater the pain intensity, the greater the activation increase. With neuroimaging techniques like fMRI, we can look at a brain image to see if a subject is “experiencing” pain. This ability to assess pain can prove valuable to tort law since there are currently very few methods to accurately do so. However, this by no means suggests the technology is able to evaluate pain claims confidently. Moreover, Kolber brings up two points that make the use of this technology controversial: 1) pain is a subjective experience and 2) subjective experiences are private.
Based off these points and the infancy of the technology, I feel the same way about using fMRI to assess pain as I do with using fMRI to detect a lie: there is a lot of potential for the technology, but currently, there are not enough studies in support of their use. In addition, even if this technology was almost perfect in detecting physical pain, I would still be skeptical. Since pain is subjective, it may be more psychological than physical for some people. Thus, for me to be comfortable with the use of neuroimaging techniques to assess pain, more studies addressing issues of this nature must be conducted.
This article goes to show that is that there is a lot of promise in the field of neuroimaging. At the same time though, much caution must be taken with this technology so as not to infringe on the rights of individuals.