The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues today released Gray Matters: Topics at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society (Gray Matters, Vol. 2), the second of its two volume report in response to President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative related charge. The President requested that the Bioethics Commission consider the ethical issues associated with neuroscience research and the application and implications of neuroscience research findings. Gray Matters, Vol. 2takes an in-depth look at three controversial topics at the intersection of neuroscience and society that have captured the public’s attention—cognitive enhancement, consent capacity, and neuroscience within the legal system. In the first volume, Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society, released in May 2014, the Bioethics Commission emphasized the importance of integrating ethics and neuroscience early and explicitly throughout the research endeavor. Programs that integrate neuroscience and ethics will be well-positioned to answer new and remaining ethical questions, consider societal implications of neuroscience research, educate the public, and implement policy recommendations. The three topics addressed in Gray Matters, Vol. 2 illustrate the ethical tensions and societal implications of advancing neuroscience and technology, and bring into heightened relief many important ethical considerations.
Contemporary neuroscience research offers us the opportunity to better understand the human brain and support the development of new or more effective diagnostic tools, treatments, preventions, and cures for neurological disorders and psychiatric conditions that affect tens of millions of individuals in the United States, and more than a billion globally. In addition, it has the potential to lead to a deeper understanding of our cognition, emotion, imagination, behavior, memory, learning, and social interactions.
Amid public and scholarly debate surrounding cognitive enhancement, consent capacity, and neuroscience within the legal system, Gray Matters, Vol. 2 seeks to clarify for the public the current scientific landscape, clear a path to productive discourse to navigate difficult issues as they arise, and identify common ground where it exists.
The Bioethics Commission offers 14 recommendations to guide the ethical progress of neuroscience research and its applications. The recommendations call for attention to fundamental ethical concerns regarding, for example, justice and stigmatization of groups and individuals; research to clarify persistent questions and fill gaps in our current state of knowledge; accurate communication about the ethical and practical implications and application of neuroscience research results; clarity around legal requirements and new guidance where needed; and the need to support and advance innovative multidisciplinary research and scholarship at the critically important intersection of neuroscience, ethics, and society.