“Acquired pedophilia”: His brain made him do it
Our latest entry in the “his brain made him do it” defenses is the long-time pediatrician [Domenico Mattiello] from London who is now accused of making sexual advances toward little girls in his care.
Experts will argue in court that a four centimeter tumor at the base of his brain made him do it as it “created pressure inside his skull and altered his behavior”. After all, he was a respected pediatrician for more than 30 years and what would otherwise explain this radical change in behavior? Apparently the defendant has had the tumor removed and is undergoing chemotherapy. Reportedly, he will soon be reassessed to see if/how treatment has effected his impulse control and his pedophilia.
While there is some scientific evidence for pedophilia arising from brain tumors (see cite below), acceptance of the idea by real people is far from universal. Scientists can say the tumor causes issues with impulse control, but people (the ultimate arbiters of fact) may find the behavior so despicable, they want to hold the perpetrator accountable despite medical explanations for out of character behavior. Crimes against children stand a pretty high likelihood of falling into this category.
While real neuroscientists are appalled at what many of them see as a misapplication of the science, there is some evidence jurors don’t buy neurolaw defenses. Prosecutors need to keep in mind that there is evidence that we may be more influenced by brain-based explanations than we are consciously aware. Do I hear a Daubert challenge? A very recent case in Maryland illustrates the intrigue and the uncertainty surrounding neurolaw defenses.
It’s an interesting area to consider. Some experts believe that brain-based disorders like drug addiction, alcoholism, and antisocial personality disorder affect up to half of all convicts in prison. They assert that these disorders are much more common than psychopathy and tumors which can result in the “my brain made me do it” defenses. Why shouldn’t these more common conditions also result in reduced sentences? We’ll continue to monitor the news in this fascinating (and quickly evolving) area of the law.
Where, we wonder, will it all end?
Burns JM, & Swerdlow RH (2003). Right orbitofrontal tumor with pedophilia symptom and constructional apraxia sign. Archives of Neurology, 60 (3), 437-40 PMID: 12633158