The blog of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

Discussion Highlights on Neuroscience and Related Ethical Issues

In a roundtable discussion, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (the Bioethics Commission) today discussed the ethical issues related to neuroscience research, as a part of the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative. Discussion highlights included:

“Neuroscience and brain studies in particular bring us closer to the question of who we are and how we function…we should applaud the fact that it is understood that, in the foundation of a new initiative like this, ethics is expected to guide the research…we have a chance in what we do today to ensure that no one will look back and wonder ‘what were we thinking?’” – James W. Wagner, Bioethics Commission Vice Chair, President of Emory University.

“People who are developing the technologies are not thinking of ethics, they are engineers…” – Henry S. Richardson, J.D., M.P.P., Ph.D., Professor, Senior Research Scholar, Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University.

“We would argue that to be a real scientist and a real engineer you must also think ethically” – Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., Chair of the Bioethics Commission, President of the University of Pennsylvania.

“I do worry a lot about neurohype” – Nita Farahany, J.D., Ph.D., Director of Science and Society at the Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, Professor of Law and Philosophy, and Professor of Genome Sciences and Policy at Duke University.

“We need to find ways to engage with social media and educate the public…[ways] that we did not have when the genome ELSI [Ethical, Legal and Social Implications] program began…It’s probably going to require a 20 year old to figure out how to do it.” -Thomas Murray, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of the Hastings Center

“Working scientists and clinicians need to engage with the public directly, and at this point, there is no incentive to do so” – Anjan Chatterjee, M.D., F.A.A.N., Professor of Neurology at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and Center for Functional Neuroimaging at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

“As we think about this…if we all truly believe that the way to accomplish this goal is to educate everyone and think about these ethical issues right from the beginning, we need to think about ways that, from the beginning of this effort, we can bring people together…how do we do that? That is the question.” – Raju Kucherlapati, Ph.D., Paul C. Cabot Professor in the Harvard Medical School Department of Genetics and Professor in the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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2 Comments to Discussion Highlights on Neuroscience and Related Ethical Issues

  1. Peter Bloch's Gravatar Peter Bloch
    August 21, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I attended the very informative meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues held at the University of Pennsylvania August 19-20. An issue raised by William Casebeer Ph.D. from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) particularly concerned me. He stated that some of the brain research at DARPA would be classified for security reasons. I believe guidelines are required to assure disclosure and oversight of brain research projects by all agencies of the government including the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Eisenhower established an important precedent when he created the civilian Atomic Energy Commission to oversee and regulate the use of all fissionable materials, thus effectively establishing civilian control over atomic weapons. The brain initiative will introduce a more complicated technology to regulate. The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues could strongly recommend oversight and transparency of all research and development projects in the brain initiative. Without this oversight, ethically questionable brain research and development could occur.

    Peter Bloch, Ph.D.
    Emeritus Professor Medical Physics
    University of Pennsylvania, Dept. Radiation Oncology

  2. August 26, 2013 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    I’m with the esteemed Professor Block (the preceding comment) on this- I’m all for oversight and transparency on the “brain initiative”. To quote Professor Block “Without this oversight, ethically questionable brain research and development could occur.” I concur-

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This is a space for the members and staff of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to communicate with the public about the work of the commission and to discuss important issues in bioethics.

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