It wasn’t me, it was FTD
|Image courtesy to Max Pixel
A 62-year-old woman named Mary was found to have poisoned her husband who was terminally ill with cancer. The defendant displays a PET scan of her brain showing hyper-metabolic lesions in the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain. This could mean she suffers from frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a disorder that includes the following symptoms: socially inappropriate behavior, lack of sympathy/empathy, apathy, stereotypical/repetitive movement, and executive dysfunction (“Frontotemporal Dementia Signs and Symptoms”, 2018). Imagine you are on a jury for Mary’s trial. Are the neuroimages enough evidence to show that Mary should be less responsible for her crime?
|Image courtesy to Genesis12, Wikipedia
Studies have shown that pre-symptomatic changes for FTD include initial plasma biomarkers and abnormalities in MRI imaging of functional and structural connectivity in the brain, along with grey matter atrophy (Rohrer, Warren, Fox, & Rosser, 2013). However, specific studies regarding middle-to-late symptomatic changes for FTD are difficult to conduct since many studies show there is no typical pattern in terms of brain atrophy or functional and structural connectivity because each person’s progression of FTD is varied (Devenney et al., 2015; Mozzer, 2018). If it is hard to draw a distinct line between what conditions are considered pre-symptomatic and what conditions are considered middle-to-late symptomatic for FTD, that leaves us right where we left off: determining cases in which neuroimaging can be used to diagnose someone for FTD in order to claim impaired decision making. Discussing the ethics of using neuroimaging in court should be second to distinguishing the different states of FTD.
|Image courtesy to Flickr
Dr. Merkel explained another caveat to using neuroimaging in court: laypeople, i.e. judges and the jury, might confuse neuroimages “with something like direct snapshots of the brain.” Say in Mary’s case, neuroimages are allowed to be used as evidence to diagnose Mary with FTD. This could result in too much trust in the “science” behind the neuroimages (Kuersten, 2015). Studies show there is “neuroseduction” at play regarding using neuroimages in court; people are overly willing to accept explanations that allude to neuroscience (Weisberg et.al., 2008). Either defendants or prosecutors could take advantage of this limitation, which could have major effects on the lives of those involved in a trial. Therefore, further tests on the accuracy rates and real-world applications from brain images must be carried out before any conclusive decision regarding the use of neuroimaging in courts can be made (Salmanowitz, 2015). It is important to continuously discuss and collaborate with various stakeholders to “impartially assess and guide the development of forensic [neuroimaging] technology” to avoid any unnecessary harms and ethical violations (Langleben & Moriarty, 2013).
Esther Jang is a third year undergraduate student at Emory University. She is currently a member of Dr. Irwin Waldman’s Behavior Genetics lab focused on molecular genetics of childhood disruptive disorders. She is also a research intern working on an independent systematic review involving thromboprophylaxis and DVT through the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Department of Orthopedics. She will be graduating in May 2019 with a Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology degree, and plans to pursue an MD.
Want to cite this post?
Jang, E. (2018). It wasn’t me, it was FTD. The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on , from http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2018/12/it-wasnt-me-it-was-ftd.html