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Neuronal Testimonial: Brain-Computer Interfaces and the Law

Posted by on Tuesday, May 22, 2018 in Notes, Volume 71, Volume 71, Number 4.



Scientific researchers have developed a method of using brain-scanning technology to determine if patients in a coma-like condition, known as a “vegetative state,” are conscious despite their inability to communicate verbally or via motor actions. While in a brain scanner, patients “answer” yes-or-no questions by envisioning specific scenarios that activate different parts of the brain. A researcher interprets a brain scan image as a yes-or-no response based on which areas of the brain demonstrated activation. Exciting as this technology may be, there are difficulties in terms of the ability to use it within the legal system. This Note considers those difficulties as they pertain to three contexts: (1) allowing conscious vegetative-state patients to “testify,” (2) providing police with an investigative tool for “questioning” conscious vegetative-state patients, and (3) assessing conscious vegetative-state patients’ healthcare wishes. It concludes that use of this technology as a way to allow patients to testify in court is unlikely under the current legal framework. However, there is a better chance of employing this technology for police investigations and healthcare decisionmaking.


Jessica Lauren Haushalter
J.D. Candidate, 2018, Vanderbilt Law School; B.S., 2015, The Ohio State University.