Neurotechnological Behavioural Treatment of Criminal Offenders—A Comment on Bomann-Larsen


Whether it is morally acceptable to offer rehabilitation by CNS-intervention to criminals as a condition for early release constitutes an important neuroethical question. Bomann-Larsen has recently suggested that such interventions are unacceptable if the offered treatment is not narrowly targeted at the behaviour for which the criminal is convicted. In this article it is argued that Bomann-Larsen’s analysis of the morality of offers does not provide a solid base for this conclusion and that, even if the analysis is assumed to be correct, it still does not follow that voluntary rehabilitation schemes targeting behaviour beyond the act for which a criminal is convicted are inappropriate.

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  1. 1.

    See M. J. Farah, “Emerging Ethical Issues in Neuroscience”, in W. Glannon (ed.), Defining Right and Wrong in Brain Science, New York: Dana Press, [2], p. 26.

  2. 2.

    M. J. Farah, ibid. p. 27.

  3. 3.

    L. Bomann-Larsen, “Voluntary Rehabilitation? On Neurotechnological Behavioural Treatment, Valid Consent and (In)appropriate Offers”, Neuroethics, Online First, 18 March [1].

  4. 4.

    Bomann-Larsen presents an example of the second type of offer—“I will help you out of the water if you give me all your money”—which she regards as clearly inappropriate.

  5. 5.

    To avoid misunderstandings, the point is not to suggest that a justification should be rejected if it does not provide absolutely precise limits but, more modestly, to indicate that a “claim of moral respect” constitutes a very (and for the purpose of the present discussion unsatisfactory) vague criterion.

  6. 6.

    What Bomann-Larsen says is that an “offer itself is a wronging” (p. 9). But clearly the point is that some offers are wrong in themselves. Otherwise the analysis would not provide a basis for the suggested appropriateness-constraints on rehabilitation offers.

  7. 7.

    Probably, our intuitions are also affected by the magnitude of what is required in return. We are more shocked if what is required is sex than if it is a cup of coffee. But it strikes me that it would be wrong even to require a cup of coffee in return of assisting the dying child.

  8. 8.

    Another possibility—if one prefers a retributivist outlook to a consequentialist preventive position—is to suggest that the purpose of the criminal justice system is to distribute just deserts and that it, therefore, would be inappropriate for the state to offer treatment as an alternative to punishment (that is, if one assumes that such a treatment is not a punishment and that a shortened period of imprisonment would violate the retributivist proportionality constraint).

  9. 9.

    See, for instance, A. von Hirsch and L. Maher, “Should Penal Rehabilitation be Revived?”, in A. von Hirsch and A. Ashworth (eds.), Principled Sentencing, Oxford: Hart Publishing, [3].


  1. 1.

    Bomann-Larsen, Lene. 2011. Voluntary rehabilitation? On neurotechnological behavioural treatment, valid consent and (in)appropriate offers. Neuroethics, First Online (18 March).

  2. 2.

    Farah, M. 2007. Emerging ethical issues in Neuroscience. In Defining right and wrong in brain science. Essential readings in neuroethics, ed. W. Glannon, 16–36. New York: Dana Press.

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  3. 3.

    Von Hirsch, A., and L. Maher. 1998. Should Penal Rehabilitation be Revived? In Principled Sentencing, ed. A. von Hirsch and A. Ashworth. Oxford: Hart Publishing.

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Correspondence to Jesper Ryberg.

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Ryberg, J., Petersen, T.S. Neurotechnological Behavioural Treatment of Criminal Offenders—A Comment on Bomann-Larsen. Neuroethics 6, 79–83 (2013).

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  • Bomann-Larsen
  • Inappropriate offers
  • Neurotechnological treatment
  • Rehabilitation