Monday, November 30, 2015

Early Detection of Criminality Concerns & the Social Link

In modern societies, rhetoric focused on body and health is common as biomedical sciences have taken a big place in people’s lives. They must enhance the society, health and living conditions of citizens. Solving criminality problems remains a major challenge and the early detection of antisocial children - future offenders - promises to offer a solution to criminality thanks to science and medical advances. But in a democratic society that values ​​solidarism and pluralism and tends to preserve the social link, it is necessary to question the ethical relevance of this method of managing criminality. This paper proposes to analyze these questions in the light of debates that have troubled France for a number of years.

Introduction-the debate
In 2005, the former President of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, defended a draft report on “crime prevention” which called for very early detection of behavioral disorders. He referred to a report from theInstitut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (Inserm), entitled “Troubles des conduites chez l’enfant et l’adolescent” or “Conduct disorder in children and adolescents” (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale ). That report, published in September, 2005 shows that some early conduct disorders have a marked heritability, are correlated with early aggression and are predictive of future delinquency. Indeed, conduct disorder is primarily defined by the repetition and persistence of behavior patterns which flout societal rules and other people’s fundamental rights. Inserm therefore proposed that risk factors be detected at an early stage, even from early pregnancy, and to organize regular interventions in families at risk, particularly among young mothers with a first pregnancy in a precarious environment. Behavioral disorders in young children would then be recognized as early as the age of 36 months with regular medical checkups and a follow-up in the child’s health booklet.

Following Inserm’s publication, a group of citizens formed a group named . In March 2006, it sent an open letter, accompanied by a petition, to the General Director of Inserm to denounce an “extreme medicalization of educational, psychological and social phenomena” and “confusion between social disorders and mental suffering, or hereditary disease.” This group also alerted the National Consultative Ethics Committee (Comité consultatif national d’Ethique - CCNE) and called for a critical analysis of the report.

In February 2007, the CCNE published a report on the ethical issues raised by the early detection of behavioral disorders in children (Comité consultatif national d’Ethique ). This brief report questions the collective expertise of INSERM and underlines three major issues:
  1. On the epistemological problems and semantic ambiguity of “conduct disorder”;
  2. On the neglected importance of environmental factors;
  3. On the risk of stigmatization.
Can early medical screening of behavioral disorders really prevent crime? Is dealing with suffering children through formal medical diagnosis a civic and societal acceptable initiative? Or is it breaking the social link? These questions raise important and urgent ethical challenges for the citizen. Yet groups of “wise men” are those who make decisions. This debate is exemplary: it is built around two “groups of wise persons”, a group of scientific experts and the group of the Ethics Committee. Is there a real place for the popular voice in this highly elitist dynamic?

In this paper, I propose to analyze and discuss in more details the epistemological and ethical arguments rose by CCNE against the recommendations of the experts of Inserm. We will be then able to analyze the relevance of the proposal of “early detection of future offenders” regarding democratic civic values: solidarism and pluralism.

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Centre de Recherche Interdisciplinaire en Bioéthique (CRIB), Philosophy Department, FNRS fellow & Université libre de Bruxelles, 50 av. F.D. Roosevelt, CP 175/01 1050 Brussels, Belgium
Laurence Perbal,

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