, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 107–118 | Cite as

Incarceration, Direct Brain Intervention, and the Right to Mental Integrity – a Reply to Thomas Douglas

Original Paper


In recent years, direct brain interventions (DBIs) have shown increased success in manipulating neurobiological processes often associated with moral reasoning and decision-making. As current DBIs are refined, and new technologies are developed, the state will have an interest in administering DBIs to criminal offenders for rehabilitative purposes. However, it is generally assumed that the state is not justified in directly intruding in an offender’s brain without valid consent. Thomas Douglas challenges this view. The state already forces criminal offenders to go to jail without their consent. This represents a serious interference with an offender’s rights. If criminal offenders are already morally liable to incarceration, why is the state not also entitled to administer DBIs without consent for the purposes of rehabilitation? Douglas argument focuses on the right to ‘bodily integrity’. He argues that there is no compelling reason to believe that bodily rights that protect an offender from non-consensual DBIs are stronger than rights that protect an offender from incarceration. This paper will extend Douglas’ analysis. It will consider the more fundamental right to ‘mental integrity’. The right to mental integrity defends an inner sphere of liberty. It protects critical capacities necessary for the exercise of autonomous human agency—without which a vast majority of moral rights could not exist. Thus, the right to mental integrity is ultimately more important for a moral assessment of DBIs. The right strongly suggests that both presently, and in the future, there may be many cases in which the state is not entitled to administer DBIs to criminal offenders without valid consent.


Criminal sentencing Direct brain intervention Human rights Incarceration Mental integrity Neuro-intervention Neuroethics 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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