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

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Handbook of Neuroethics

Abstract

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?

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The legal principles and cases used in this chapter to illustrate the intersection of concepts of personal identity, neuroscientific knowledge, and the law are predominantly Canadian.Similar issues will confront other legal jurisdictions, where the reasoning and principles may be different.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Jennifer Chandler .

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Chandler, J. (2015). Mind, Brain, and Law: Issues at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Personal Identity, and the Legal System. In: Clausen, J., Levy, N. (eds) Handbook of Neuroethics. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-4707-4_115

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