Conference Panels

In addition to traditional talks during plenary and parallel sessions, this conference will also have four interactive and interdisciplinary panel sessions.

PANEL FORMAT [total 90 minutes]

[10-15 min] Each Panel session will start with a 10-15 minute description of a “scenario”. For the first three panels, the scenarios will be actual criminal law cases, and for the last panel the scenario will be a hypothetical. See “Panel Content” section below for details.

[20-35 min] Next, each of the 4-6 members of an interdisciplinary panel will briefly (max 5 minutes) comment on/discuss/highlight an issue that they find particularly pertinent, interesting, or important about that scenario, given their particular interests and disciplinary perspective — e.g. neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry, medicine, law, public policy, or philosophy.

[45 min] Following these commentaries, the floor will then be open for the audience, the panel members, and the chair of the panel to engage in interdisciplinary discussion about that case and the issues that it raises.


NARRATIVE FOR FIRST THREE PANELS: How sane is sane enough for criminal responsibility? How sane is sane enough for standing trial? How sane is sane enough for execution or other forms of punishment? How sane is sane enough for release from incarceration?

These questions are stated here in the language of mental disease and disorder – in the language of sanity – but the central issues almost certainly implicate mental capacity. Namely, how much and which kind of mental capacity must people possess at four stages in time – during the commission of a crime, at trial, while punishment is administered, and following release from detention – to be responsible, competent, or fit in the relevant senses in criminal law?

It is not infrequent that defendants and convicted offenders are deemed to be insufficiently mentally competent or fit to stand trial, to be punished (e.g. executed, or simply to remain in prison), or to be released back into society after they have served their time in prison. And when this happens, it is not infrequent for the criminal justice system to administer medications (sometimes forcibly) to make these people fit or competent for trial, for punishment, or for release back into society.

The FIRST THREE PANELS will engage with the above topics as follows:

PANEL 1 (Release) will be about making people competent, fit, and safe (through the use of neuro-interventions) for release back into society after they have served their prison sentence — for instance, making it a condition of release that sex offenders undergo chemical castration. In part due to advances in neuroscience and psychopharmacology, but also due to the staggering costs involved in keeping people incarcerated, there has been a recent re-surgence of interest in questions like whether, instead of punishing criminal offenders, we should instead find ways of treating them to make them good/safe. Alternatively, whether the criminal justice system should be permitted to make it a condition that (e.g.) convicted sexual offenders must submit themselves to chemical castration as a condition of their release back into society to make them safe for release. This panel will be co-chaired by Chris Ryan and Katrina Sifferd, and panelists include Brad Cooke, Paul Davies, Farah Focquaert, Justice David E. Nahmias, and Ekaterina Pivovarova. See the poster for this panel.

PANEL 2 (Punishment) will investigate the topic of making people competent/fit for punishment — for instance, making insane people “sane enough” for execution through the forced administration of anti-psychotic medications. Defendants are sometimes treated with anti-psychotic drugs to restore their competence for punishment — e.g. in Singleton v. Norris (2003) anti-psychotic drugs were forcibly administered to a condemned inmate to make him competent for execution by lethal injection. But even if we do not endorse capital punishment, we might still endorse the more moderate idea that inmates who develop mental disorders while serving a prison sentence should receive medical treatment, and not only because prisoners retain a right to adequate medical care, but to ensure that they can remain in prison so that the retributive aim of incarceration (one of the penological goals cited in Ford v. Wainright (1986)) can continue to be achieved. This panel will be co-chaired by Ted Blumoff and Francis Shen, and panelists include Senior Judge Andre Davis, Stephen Morse, Chris Ryan, and Nicole Vincent. See the poster for this panel.

PANEL 3 (Trial) will be about making people competent/fit to stand trial — for instance, making insane people “sane enough” so that they can stand trial and answer for their crimes. For instance, in Riggins v. Nevada (1992) the court held that it was generally permissible to administer anti-psychotic drugs that make defendants competent to stand trial, as long as this is medically appropriate and the least intrusive means available. In Sell v. United States (2003) the US Supreme Court clarified this position by ruling that it is permissible to forcibly medicate a defendant for the sole purpose of making them competent to stand trial, as long as the treatment would most likely be effective, no better medical alternatives are available, and important state interests are at stake (e.g. bringing criminals to justice). This panel will be chaired by Jessica Gabel, and panelists include Senior Judge Andre Davis, Felipe De Brigard, Ekaterina Pivovarova, and Nicole Vincent. See the poster for this panel.

The LAST PANEL concerns a different kind of problem, one that affects (among other areas) tort law, and relates to cognitive enhancement medications and other devices.

PANEL 4 (Enhancement) will interrogate the topic of cognitive enhancement — for instance, whether some people might have a responsibility to use cognitive enhancement medications or technologies, whether they might be negligent if they fail to do so, and whether, once cognitively enhanced, they might acquire new/greater responsibilities. This panel will be chaired by Nicole Vincent, and panelists include Jan Christoph Bublitz, Zack Buck, Veljko Dubljević, Alexandre Erler, Farah Focquaert, Thomas Nadelhoffer, and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. See the poster for this panel. Or, for a brief introduction to the issues, watch this 12 minute TED talk or read this short article.


Among other things, these Panels will aim to:
• employ the intellects of an interdisciplinary panel and audience to reflect on how to address such difficult problems in the philosophy of law as what, if anything, is wrong with the practice of medicating condemned inmates (perhaps forcibly) to make them mentally competent/fit for execution, especially if we set aside in-principle objections to capital punishment;
• give members of the audience a richer appreciation of the issues that these cases raise, what makes those issues difficult, and why it is beneficial to approach those issues from an interdisciplinary perspective; and
• to prepare the audience to engage in a fruitful interdisciplinary discussion at the talks delivered during the Parallel sessions that follow.


Some of the questions that an interdisciplinary discussion of these and related cases – at the Panel sessions, and in the talks during the Plenary and Parallel sessions – may help us to shed light upon, include:

• Should the criminal justice system be permitted to use neuro-interventions (e.g. anti-psychotic drugs and medical procedures that putatively restore mental function) to make people fit or competent for trial, for punishment, or for release back into society?
• Should the state be permitted for *forcibly* treat criminal defendants and convicted offenders to achieve the internal aims of the criminal justice system?
• Should the state be permitted to *offer* treatments with such neuro-interventions in order to achieve the internal aims of the criminal justice system?
• Precisely which legal aims are we trying to secure by using neuro-interventions in these contexts — i.e. retribution, deterrence, reform, communication, etc?
• Which of the neuro-interventions that we currently use actually work, how do they work, what are their costs, and do they truly help us to achieve the aims that we think or hope they do?
• What can we learn about our own normative presuppositions – e.g. about our understanding of what retribution involves – by reflecting on the use of neuro-interventions in such contexts?
• Should people be allowed to use controlled substances like modafinil and methylphenidate, or uncontrolled substances like phenylpiracetam, and techniques like transcranial direct current stimulation of the brain – i.e. putative cognitive enhancement techniques – to improve their own mental abilities beyond normal levels, to get better grades at college, or to get a competitive advantage in the workforce?
• Or, perhaps, should some people be expected to enhance themselves, and might they even be negligent if they fail to do so? For instance, surgeons performing long, cognitively demanding, and tiring operations; pilots on long-haul flights; or anyone else for that matter whose job involves high stakes and demands the highest grade performance?