Early prevention of antisocial behavior (ASB): A comparative ethical analysis of psychosocial and biomedical approaches

D. Horstkötter*, R. Berghmans, G. de Wert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Scientific research regarding juvenile delinquency increasingly emphasizes the importance of early identification of at-risk children and early preventive interventions. Recent developments in the life sciences give a special boost to this development. The corresponding ethical discussion, however, seems to be characterized by a remarkable discrepancy. Life science approaches toward antisocial behavior (ASB) are frequently confronted by controversial discussions as to their ethical, social and legal implications. By contrast, ethics hardly takes notice of currently existing early ASB prevention practices that largely result from social sciences. This article investigates whether biomedical approaches are indeed ethically more problematic or whether instead this gap in the ethical debate manifests undue "bio-exceptionalism". To this end, existing ASB prevention practices and potential biomedically informed future developments are presented and discussed. A series of potential drawbacks, as highlighted in bioethics, are reviewed; and whether, when and how far these might also apply to established psychosocial practices will be explored. We conclude that negative ethical implications might result from all kinds of early screening and prevention practices irrespective of their disciplinary origin. Therefore, it is a moral imperative to include not only future biomedical developments in ethical research, but to critically investigate current psychosocial practices as well.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-83
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

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