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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Does Brain Difference Affect Legal and Moral Responsibility?

HMS Center for Bioethics
Published on May 12, 2015

Brains create behavior. Yet we hold people, not brains, morally and legally responsible for their actions. Under what conditions could -- or should -- brain disorder affect the ways in which we assign moral and legal responsibility to a person?

In this conversation among a neuroscientist who studies moral judgement, a forensic psychiatrist, and a law professor, we explore three cases that highlight the relationship between brain disorder, law-breaking, and norms relating to responsibility.

Each case raises challenging questions: Can we establish whether the brain disorder caused the law-breaking behavior? Even if we can, is the presence of brain disorder morally or legally excusing? All behavior is caused: Why should some causes be excusing, but not others? If brain disorder can cause unlawful behavior, can we infer the reverse -- that people who behave unlawfully have disordered brains? Check out this provocative discussion on the state of the art at the intersection of neuroethics, brain science, philosophy, and the law.



Dr. Fiery Cushman, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. From 2011-2014 he served as a post-doctoral fellow in moral psychology, funded by the Mind, Brain and Behavior Initiative at Harvard University.

Dr. Judith Edersheim, MD, JD, is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and an attending Psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Amanda Pustilnik, JD, is the Senior Fellow in Law & Applied Neuroscience at the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, a faculty member of the Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital, and an assistant professor of law at the University of Maryland School of Law.

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