Biology and psychiatry: Ethical aspects of the prevention of antisocial behaviour in children
background Genetic and neurobiological research into the causes of antisocial behaviour is playing an increasingly important role in forensic psychiatry.
aim To contribute some ethical and societal reflections on the possible consequences of this kind of research for the prevention of antisocial behaviour.
method In this ethical analysis, which gives attention to the concepts of ‘informed consent’ and ‘best interests’, we investigate which persons and which interests need to be taken into account when new preventive measures are implemented.
results It is important to differentiate between distinct target groups. From an ethical point of view it makes a difference whether measures are related to the early identification of a-symptomatic high-risk children and appropriate preventive interventions, or whether they are directed towards the (sub)typing and preventive treatment of children who already have behavioural problems or whether they are concerned with the treatment of children with conduct disorders whose parents have asked the child psychiatrist for assistance.
conclusion From an ethical point of view it is not really important whether prevention measures are based on genetic and neurobiological research or on societal and psychological research. What is more important is that these measures target particular groups of children and that prevention is implemented in an appropriate manner.