Prof. Snead Joins Top Neuroscientists at National Conference

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carter snead faculty Notre Dame Law School Professor Carter Snead spoke to an audience of federal and state judges at Rice University on Monday, Oct. 6, about how cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging evidence have entered the courtroom and impacted verdicts and sentencing.

Snead—the only non-neuroscientist presenting at the conference—addressed neuroimaging’s influence in both civil and criminal contexts. Civilly, neuroimaging evidence is used to show injury (and to a lesser extent causation) in claims for medical malpractice, toxic exposure, and personal injury, among others. The evidence has even been used to show how video games can cause violent behavior in children. On the criminal side, Snead explained how neuroimaging evidence has been introduced to show a defendant’s incompetence to stand trial or diminished capacity, and at the sentencing phase, such evidence has been used to argue for leniency due to a defendant’s diminished moral capacity caused by a brain abnormality.

Snead authored “Neuroimaging and the ‘Complexity’ of Capital Punishment,” published in New York University Law Review (cite: Neuroimaging and the ‘Complexity of Capital Punishment, 82 NEW YORK UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW 1265 (2007)). The article examines the implications and unintended consequences of an emerging effort by cognitive neuroscientists to reform capital sentencing with the use of brain scans.

Snead’s research focuses on the intersection of law and bioethics. His scholarship explores the possibility, mechanisms, and wisdom of the governance of science, medicine, and biotechnology according to ethical principles.

Snead was recently appointed to a four-year term by the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to be one of the 36 independent experts that compose UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee, the only body in the United Nations System charged with reflecting on bioethics and public policy.

In 2002 Snead accepted the position of general counsel for the President’s Council on Bioethics. In that capacity, he advised the chairman and council members on the legal and public policy dimensions of numerous ethical questions arising from advances in biomedical science and biotechnology. He was the principal drafter of the council’s 2004 report, “Reproduction and Responsibility: The Regulation of New Biotechnologies,” a comprehensive critical assessment of the governance (both public and private) of the activities at the intersection of assisted reproduction, human embryo research, and genetics. Snead continues to serve the council as an expert consultant. From 2004-2005, he served as the chief negotiator and head of the United States delegation to UNESCO for the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights (adopted in October 2005).

In 2007, Snead was appointed (along with Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, Chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics) to be the Permanent Observer for the U.S. Government at the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee on Bioethics (CDBI). In that capacity, he assists the CDBI in its efforts to elaborate international instruments and standards for the ethical governance of science and medicine.

The “Judicial Seminar on Emerging Issues in Neuroscience” was sponsored jointly by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Federal Judicial Center, the National Center for State Courts, the Dana Foundation, and the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

Other presenters included Dr. Marcus Raichle of the Washington University (whose research team authored the landmark study (Nature 1988) describing the first integrated strategy for the design, execution and interpretation of functional brain images) and Jordan Grafman, Chief of the Cognitive Neuroscience Section of the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Contact: Prof. Carter Snead, 202-607-0963(cell); 574-631-8259 (office); Orlando.C.Snead.1@nd.edu

To learn more information about Professor Snead, visit his faculty profile page.