Mind, Brain, and Law: Issues at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Personal Identity, and the Legal System

  • Jennifer ChandlerEmail author
Reference work entry


The objective of this chapter is to consider how emerging neuroscience might affect the way that the concept of personal identity is understood and used in the law. This topic is explored using two well-established theoretical approaches to the concept of personal identity. One approach considers the physical and/or psychological criteria for establishing the boundaries of one single personal identity at a given time (synchronic numerical personal identity) or the continuity of one personal identity over time (diachronic numerical personal identity). Another approach conceives of personal identity as “narrative identity” or the self-conception that a person creates from the sum of their experiences, values, and psychological attributes.

A concern with what makes two apparent beings the same person at one point in time (synchronic identity) brings into focus questions about how the law should respond to cases of accused persons with dissociative identity disorder. Neuroimaging and psychological research into dissociative identity disorder may one day alter the conceptualization of this disorder in ways that may affect the legal response to determining criminal responsibility in such cases. Meanwhile, a concern with changes in the “self” brings into focus a range of legal issues posed by emerging neurological interventions. The chapter offers three illustrative examples drawn from criminal and civil law: (1) What are the limits on legally coerced consent to “self”-changing rehabilitative brain interventions in the criminal context? (2) Should there be an expanded risk disclosure discussion during the informed consent process for medical treatment that may alter the “self”? (3) Who might be legally responsible for illegal behavior committed following “self”-changing brain interventions?


Deep Brain Stimulation Biological Intervention Personal Identity Criminal Responsibility Traumatic Memory 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Many thanks to Jocelyn Downie, Michael Hadskis, and Francoise Baylis for their most helpful comments on a draft of this chapter. All weaknesses or errors remain the sole responsibility of the author.


  1. Baylis, F. (2011). The self in situ: A relational account of personal identity. In J. Downie & J. Llewellyn (Eds.), Being relational (pp. 109–131). Vancouver: UBC Press.Google Scholar
  2. BBC News. 17 November 2009. I was chemically castrated.
  3. Berg, J. W., Applebaum, S., Lidz, C. W., & Parker, L. S. (2001). Informed consent: Legal theory and clinical practice. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bolt, I., & Schermer, M. (2009). Psychopharmaceutical enhancers: Enhancing identity? Neuroethics, 2, 103–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bomann-Larsen, L. (2011). Voluntary rehabilitation? On neurotechnological behavioral treatment, valid consent and (in)appropriate offers. Neuroethics. doi:10.1007/s12152-011-9105-9.Google Scholar
  6. Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (2000). (looseleaf update 2011). Canadian health law practice manual. Markham: LexisNexis Canada.Google Scholar
  7. Boysen, G. A. (2011). The scientific status of childhood dissociative identity disorder: A review of published research. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 80, 329–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Boysen, G. A., & VanBergen, A. (2013). A review of published research on adult dissociative identity disorder 2000–2010. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 201(1), 5–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brunet, A., et al. (2011). Trauma reactivation under the influence of propranolol decreases posttraumatic stress symptoms and disorder – 3 open-label trials. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 31(4), 547–550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brunet, A., et al. (2008). Effect of post-retrieval propranolol on psychophysiologic responding during subsequent script-driven traumatic imagery in post-traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 42, 503–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bublitz, J. C., & Merkel, R. (2009). Autonomy and authenticity of enhanced personality traits. Bioethics, 23(6), 360–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Calhoun, L. G., & Tedeschi, R. G. (Eds.). (2006). Handbook of posttraumatic growth: Research and practice. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  13. Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Constitution Act, 1982, Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c. 11, available at
  14. Chandler, J.A., Mogyoros, A., Martin Rubio, T. and Racine, E. (submitted, 2013). Another look at the legal and ethical consequences of pharmacological memory dampening: The case of sexual assault.Google Scholar
  15. Clausen, J. (2010). Ethical brain stimulation – neuroethics of deep brain stimulation in research and clinical practice. European Journal of Neuroscience, 32, 1152–1162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Crego, M. E. (2000). One crime, many convicted: Dissociative identity disorder and the exclusion of expert testimony in State v. Greene. Washington Law Review 75, 911–939.Google Scholar
  17. Deacon v. Canada (Attorney General). (2006) FCA 265.Google Scholar
  18. DeGrazia, D. (2005). Human identity and bioethics. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dobbs, D. B. (2000). The Law of Torts. St. Paul: West Group.Google Scholar
  20. Durkheim, E. (1982). Rules for the distinction of the normal from the pathological. Trans. W.D. Halls. In Durkheim, E. (1982).The rules of sociological method. MacMillan Press Ltd. Reprinted with permission In M. Tonry (Ed.) (2011). Why punish? How much? (pp. 415–420) New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Elger, B. S. (2008). Medical ethics in correctional healthcare: An international comparison of guidelines. The Journal of Clinical Ethics, 19(3), 234–248.Google Scholar
  22. Frankfurt, H. (1971). Freedom of the will and the concept of a person. Journal of Philosophy, 68(1), 5–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Greely, H. (2012). Direct brain interventions to treat disfavored human behaviors: Ethical and social issues. Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 91(2), 163–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Grubin, D., & Beech, A. (2010). Chemical castration for sex offenders. BMJ, 340, c74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hall, W. (2006). Stereotactic neurosurgical treatment of addiction: Minimizing the chances of another ‘great and desperate cure., Addiction, 101(1), 1–3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Honderich, T. (2006). Punishment: The supposed justifications revisited. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  27. Hörstkotter, D., et al. (2012). “We are also normal humans, you know?” Views and attitudes of juvenile delinquents on antisocial behavior, neurobiology and prevention. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 35, 289–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Huntjens, R. J. C., et al. (2007). Memory transfer for emotionally valence words between identities in dissociative identity disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy 45, 775–789.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Joyce, J. (2009). Gay injustice “was widespread.” BBC News. 12 September 2009.
  30. King, M., Smith, G., & Bartlett, A. (2004). Treatments of homosexuality in Britain since the 1950s – an oral history: The experience of professionals. BMJ, 328(7437), 427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Konrad, N., & Völlm, B. (2010). Ethical issues in forensic and prison psychiatry. In H. Helmchen & N. Sartorius (Eds.), Ethics in psychiatry, International Library of Ethics, Law, and the New Medicine 45, (p. 363–380). Springer.Google Scholar
  32. Levy, N. (2007). Neuroethics: Challenges for the 21st century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lewis, C. S. (1970). The humanitarian theory of punishment. Excerpt from Lewis, C.S. God in the Dock. C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Reprinted in Tonry, M. ed. (2011). Why punish? How much?(pp. 91–96). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Linden, A. M., & Feldthusen, B. (2006). Canadian Tort law (8th ed.). Markham: LexisNexis Canada.Google Scholar
  35. Lu, L., Wang, X., & Kosten, T. R. (2009). Stereotactic neurosurgical treatment of drug addiction. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 35(5), 391–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Luigjes, J., et al. (2012). Deep brain stimulation in addiction: A review of potential brain targets. Molecular Psychiatry, 17(6), 572–583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. MacIntyre, A. (1984). After virtue (2nd ed.). Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press.Google Scholar
  38. MacPhail v. Desrosiers, (1998). N.S.J. No. 353 (N.S.C.A.), varying MacPhail v. Desrosiers (1997). N.S.J. No. 562 (N.S.S.C.).Google Scholar
  39. Mandat, T. S., Hurwitz, T., & Honey, C. R. (2006). Hypomania as an adverse effect of subthalamic nucleus stimulation: A report of two cases. Acta Neurochirurgica (Wien), 148(8), 895–898.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Menzies, R. P. D. (2009). Propranolol treatment of traumatic memories. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 15, 159–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Menzies, R. P. D. (2012). Propranolol, traumatic memories, and amnesia: A study of 36 cases. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 373(1), 129–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Merkel, R., et al. (2007). Intervening in the brain: Changing psyche and society (Ethics of science and technology assessment, Vol. 29). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  43. NHGRI (National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health, United States). (2012). Informed consent elements tailored to genomics.
  44. NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia). (2007). Ethical guidelines on the use of assisted reproductive technology in clinical practice and research.
  45. Offitt, K., & Thom, P. (2007). Ethical and legal aspects of cancer genetic testing. Seminars in Oncology, 34(5), 435–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Olson, E. T. (2003). Personal identity. In S. P. Stich & T. A. Warfield (Eds.), Blackwell guide to philosophy of mind (pp. 352–368). Malden: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  47. Picard, E. I., & Robertson, G. B. (2007). Legal liability of doctors and hospitals in Canada (4th ed.). Toronto: Thomson Carswell.Google Scholar
  48. Radin, M. J. (1982). Property and personhood. Stanford Law Review, 34(5), 957–1015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Reinders, A. A. T. S. (2008). Cross-examining dissociative identity disorder: Neuroimaging and etiology on trial. Neurocase, 14(1), 44–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. R. v. Bohak, (2004). M.J. No. 172 (Manitoba Provincial Court).Google Scholar
  51. R. v. Luedecke, (2008). ONCA 716.Google Scholar
  52. R. v. O’Flaherty, (1992). A.J. No. 96 (Alta. Prov. Ct.).Google Scholar
  53. R. v. Stone, (1999). 2 S.C.R. 290 (Supreme Court of Canada).Google Scholar
  54. Schechtman, M. (2011). The narrative self. In S. Gallagher (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of the self (pp. 394–416). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Schermer, M. (2011). Ethical issues in deep brain stimulation. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 5(17), 1–5.Google Scholar
  56. Schmitz-Luhn, B., Katenmeier, C., & Woopen, C. (2012). Law and ethics of deep brain stimulation. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 35, 130–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Schüpbach, M., et al. (2006). Neurosurgery in Parkinson disease: A distressed mind in a repaired body? Neurology, 66, 1811–1816.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Seddon, T. (2007). Coerced drug treatment in the criminal justice system: Conceptual, ethical and criminological issues. Criminol and Crimal Justice, 7, 269–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Shaw, E. (2012). Direct brain interventions and responsibility enhancement. Criminal Law and Philosophy. doi:10.1007/s11572-012-9152-2.Google Scholar
  60. Smith Apold, V., & Downie, J. (2011). Bad news about bad news: The disclosure of risks to insurability in research consent processes. Accountability in Research, 18(1), 31–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. State v. Dumas, (2012). Ohio App. LEXIS 56 (Court of Appeals of Ohio, 8th Appellate District).Google Scholar
  62. Stelten, B.M.L. et al. (2008). The neurosurgical treatment of addiction. Neurosurg. Focus 25(1):E5.Google Scholar
  63. Stewart v. Pettie, (1995). 1 S.C.R. 131.Google Scholar
  64. Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, 551 P.2d 334 (Cal. 1976).Google Scholar
  65. TCPS 2 (Tri-Council Policy Statement 2). (2010). Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada). Tri-Council Policy Statement. Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans.
  66. Toronto Drug Treatment Court.
  67. UN General Assembly. (1948). Universal declaration of human rights.
  68. UN General Assembly. (1982). Principles of medical ethics relevant to the role of health personnel, particularly physicians, in the protection of prisoners and detainees against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Resolution 37/194 of 18 December 1982.
  69. Videto v. Kennedy, (1981). 125 D.L.R. (3d) 127 (Ontario Court of Appeal).Google Scholar
  70. Vincent, N. (2012). Restoring responsibility: Promoting justice, therapy and reform through direct brain interventions. Criminal Law and Philosophy. doi:10.1007/s11572-012-9156-y.Google Scholar
  71. Vrecko, S. (2010). Therapeutic justice in drug courts: Crime, punishment and societies of control. Science as Culture, 18(2), 217–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Warnick, J. E. (2007). Propranolol and its potential inhibition of positive post traumatic growth. American Journal of Bioethics, 7(9), 37–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Wolf, S. M., Paradise, J., & Caga-anan, C. (2008). The law of incidental findings in human subjects research: Establishing researchers’ duties. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 36(2), 361–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Law, Common LawUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

Personalised recommendations