The use of technology in the courtroom is routinely met with skepticism initially. A new area where technology has offered the potential to objectively observe pain, a subjective complaint, in other people. fMRI has become useful in the area of proving brain injury in court, and now may be able to help us quantify pain. Most personal-injury cases settle out of court, so it is impossible to document how often brain scans for pain are being used in civil law. But the practice seems to be getting more common, at least in the United States, where health care is not covered by the government and personal-injury cases are frequent. Several companies have cropped up, and at least one university has offered the service. The approach is based on burgeoning research that uses fMRI to understand the nature of pain—a very subjective experience. Scientists hope that the scans can provide an objective measure of that experience, and they see potential applications, such as in testing painkillers. But many neuroscientists say that the techniques are still far from being accurate enough for the courtroom. Critics say that the companies using them have not validated their tests or proved that they are impervious to deception or bias. And whereas some think the technologies will have a place in legal settings, others worry that the practice will lead to misuse of the scans.
Only time will reveal whether this technology will be allowed into evidence in a court of law for the purpose of proving pain. I will report any new developments here.