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The Return of Lombroso? Ethical Aspects of (Visions of) Preventive Forensic Screening

Journal article
Authors Christian Munthe
Susanna Radovic
Published in Public Health Ethics
Volume 8
Issue 3
Pages 270-283
ISSN 1754-9973
Publication year 2015
Published at Centre for Ethics, Law, and Mental Health
Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Pages 270-283
Language en
Keywords bioethics, crime, neuroethics, neurolaw, neurocriminology, criminology, law, violence, prevention
Subject categories History of Ideas, Bioethics, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Medical Genetics, Psychiatry, Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology, Public health medicine research areas, Epidemiology, Public health science, Community medicine, Medical Ethics, Medical Biotechnology, Forensic Science, Applied Psychology, Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology), Law and Society, Criminology, Criminal science, Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies), Technology and social change, Practical philosophy, Theoretical philosophy, Theory of science, Ethics


The vision of legendary criminologist Cesare Lombroso to use scientific theories of individual causes of crime as a basis for screening and prevention programmes targeting individuals at risk for future criminal behaviour has resurfaced, following advances in genetics, neuroscience and psychiatric epidemiology. This article analyses this idea and maps its ethical implications from a public health ethical standpoint. Twenty-seven variants of the new Lombrosian vision of forensic screening and prevention are distinguished, and some scientific and technical limitations are noted. Some lures, biases and structural factors, making the application of the Lombrosian idea likely in spite of weak evidence are pointed out and noted as a specific type of ethical aspect. Many classic and complex ethical challenges for health screening programmes are shown to apply to the identified variants and the choice between them, albeit with peculiar and often provoking variations. These variations are shown to actualize an underlying theoretical conundrum in need of further study, pertaining to the relationship between public health ethics and the ethics and values of criminal law policy.

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