Thursday, 16 December 2010

Neuroimaging as evidence?

Can technology be so advanced that our thoughts can be seen by other people? Apparently , brain scans using neuromagnetic resonance imaging can explicitly project unto a computer screen an individual’s thought patterns. The Scottish Universities Insight Institute has recently presented a report on the current applications of neuroimaging in a variety of fields. The Church of Scotland, through the Society, Religion and Technology Project, has been involved in the development of this report .

The fact that other people can see our thought patterns raises a number of questions; who will have access to the data from people’s brain scans? How will that data be interpreted? How will the interpretations of brain activities be used? The difficulty is that although this technology was developed for use in a clinical context it is now being used as evidence in criminal trials, although the technology has not yet been properly tested and tried in non-medical contexts. It is not unusual to have technologies applied outside the context for which they were originally developed, take the computer; it was intended to be used as a gigantic calculator. The difference here is that the application of neuroimaging as evidence in criminal cases has been introduced without proper legislative frameworks. There is a real danger that vulnerable groups could become victims to the misuse of brain imaging. Other areas of potential misuse are for insurance applications and pre-employment interviews.

This is why I wrote to MSPs urging them to support the motion proposed by Helen Eadie, MSP for a parliamentary debate on the legislative framework for the use of brain imaging.

Let us hope we can have a proper debate which incorporates not just scientists and lawyers, but ordinary folk as well.

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