Since, so far as I can tell, no one is reading this blog I'll keep it breif. In the next few days my intrepid webmaster John Kingston will post a recent article from the NY Times on the emerging field of neurolaw. For those of you who can't wait, the article is called:
The Brain on the Stand
How advances in neuroscience could transform our legal system.
By JEFFREY ROSEN
It is in the NY Times MAGAZINE | March 11, 2007, and may be read/downloaded for free.
Since no one reads this blog, it is a bit difficult to see how this information will be helpful... but who knows, a new trend may emerge. Neurolaw is a minor manifestation of the global impact of Molecular Engineering (my term for nanotechnology) on medicine and health care. As such, the implications may be deduced from the nanomedicine piece I published in Salon.com a year or two ago.
Because the impact of neurolaw will be relatively immediate and certainly makes for a fun discussion... we will cover Rosen's article in the April Science Salon. However, the global impact of Molecular Engineering on medicine and healthcare is not much fun to consider if one is a humanist. Simply put, the more we learn about the molecular operation of the human machine the more we can tinker. In the area of human consciousness, researchers tend to talk about circuits. So, if we isolate and map the neural circuit for a certain form of mental behavior, say depression, we can quantitate it and begin to use these quantative data for a number of purposes:
1. The good guys (and of course gals) can begin to develop therapies to alleviate the suffering caused by depression. Dr. Bill Marks, a definite good guy, will talk to us today about his work on the cutting edge of using deep brain electrical stimulation to treat diseases such as Parkinson's and possibly depression.
2. The bad guys (and gals) will use this information to develop strategies for manipulating the human emotional state for purposes other than the alleviation of pain and suffering. Using inverted medical symmetry, one could visualize the development of a bioweapon that plunges people into an irreversible suicidal depression. We could get 'our' enemies to kill themselves off without firing a shot. What a savings in terms of the defense budget! But then again, who gets to define the term enemy?
3. The post modern guys (and gals) won't worry about good and bad. They will just keep developing molecular tools to manipulate the various circuits. These tools will be used by atavistic modernists (and undoubtedly ultra-atavistic religious fanatics) to further various conditions of goodness or badness as they define these terms.
4. Finally, the lawyers will get hold of these data and use them to defend or prosecute people accused of various criminal activities. As Jeff Rosen describes in his article, brain tumors and other medical conditions affecting the functionality of our our primary organ of consciousness are already being used successfully as evidence in trials. This is just a slightly more complex version of DNA 'fingerprinting'. Soon we will have the molecular 'fingerprints' for a wide range of medical conditions. If enough molecules are involved we will not call the data a fingerprint, we will call the data a circuit or pathway... but the principle is the same.
I warned in my Salon.com piece that the advent of molecular medicine means the end of any functional form of medical privacy. Soon, brain scanners will not only know our innermost thoughts, they will be able to manipulate them and, if necessary, put them on the witness stand. Perhaps we need an appendix to the 5th amendment that says our own bodies can't be compelled to testify against us. But then again, what about DNA fingerprints... to say nothing of the fingerprints that come from the end of our hands. When one steps in a trillion molecules, one is indeed on a a slippery slope!
Best of all, there is not a single thing you can do about it without becoming a scientifically informed citizen who participates actively in shaping the new laws that will emerge to regulate the products of molecular medicine. Since mind control techniques are the ultimate marketing tool, if you do decide to participate you will have to take on the MIRUC (Military-Industrial-Research University Complex... should be pronounced like murk). What do you think your chances are?