Pain panel: Don’t use brain imaging as a medicolegal ‘lie detector’

A task force convened by the International Association for the Study of Pain is warning against the use of neuroimaging in legal cases involving patients who claim they’re living with chronic pain.

The group has published a consensus statement on the matter in Nature Review: Neurology.

Lead author Karen Davis, PhD, senior scientist at Krembil Research Institute in Toronto, and colleagues introduce their recommendations by noting that, as brain imaging grows in use for personalized pain management, demand is also increasing for this data to be used “for legal purposes, including the development of a potential ‘lie detector’ test for chronic pain.”

The task force holds that such use of neuroimaging results would be both inappropriate and unethical—at least until such time as the science is conclusively validated.

“In our view, current brain-based measures fall short of the requisite standards for legal proceedings,” the authors write, “but we do encourage their use for understanding brain mechanisms that underlie pain, factors that lead to persistence of pain and targets in the brain for safe and effective pain control.”

Davis et al. also note that data from functional MRI and other brain-imaging technologies can only provide indirect, or “proxy,” measures of pain.

“[A]ny claims about an individual’s subjective experience of pain that are based on decoded brain imaging and activity are necessarily inferential,” they write.

The journal has posted the statement in full for free.