The Use of Truth Serum on Convicted Murderers: The Path Forward? Or a Breach of our Human Rights?
A recent article in the Australian titled “Murders should take truth serum to reveal victims’ bodies say leading barristers” has encouraged a debate about the ethicality of using truth serum on convicted murderers to compel them to disclose the location of the deceased body.
In cases where a person has been convicted of murder and the body has never been found former NSW crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen SC and Victorian barrister Sharon Kermath have called for State governments across Australia to consider a trial of the concept of administering truth serum.
The idea behind the suggestion is the fact that some mind-altering psychoactive drugs such as sodium pentothal and scopolamine have an effect on the brain that makes it ‘impossible’ to lie.
No body, no parole laws in Western Australia
‘No body, no parole’ laws already exist in most states and territories across the country in an effort to compel convicted murderers to disclose the whereabouts of their victim’s bodies. In Western Australia, a person convicted of homicide offences who refuses to cooperate with police and law enforcement authorities to disclose the location of their victim's body will not be made eligible for parole.
However, there are arguments that ‘no body no parole’ laws are not successful at garnering the truth. The argument runs that many murderers never disclose their victims’ whereabouts regardless of how many times they are asked. And they refuse even if under the threat of not being made eligible for parole unless they do so.
‘No body no parole’ laws were introduced to provide closure to the families and loved ones of victims, recognising that they have suffered enormous tragedy and grief, and deserve the opportunity to know where their loved one's body is located.
Do Truth Serums even work?
Over the years numerous studies have been conducted on the effect of various types of truth serums and while some of these studies have shown that a ‘compulsion to tell the truth’ may be one effect, other studies have been less conclusive, reporting that people only become more “suggestible” – which may imply that the answers they give while the drugs are taking effect might be determined upon the questions they’re being asked or their memories of a particular event.
A Breach of Human Rights?
Some countries have used truth serums during wartime. The US and India have, in the past, used truth serums within the context of the justice system. In neither country, are truth serums a legislated course of action.
The fierce debate erupting in the legal profession in the past fortnight in Australia is not centred around whether truth serums can be relied upon, the debate revolves around whether the use of truth serum could fundamentally breach human rights.
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