The blog of the 2009 – 2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

Neuroscience: What’s Going On Around the Globe?

At today’s meeting examining the ethical issues surrounding neuroscience research and neuroscientific advances, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) turned its attention to neuroscience and bioethical initiatives taking place around the world.

Nikolas Rose, Ph.D. is a member of the European Union’s Human Brain Project’s Social and Ethical Division Steering Committee. He said the Project aims to “simulate the human brain, cell by cell, in a neuromorphic supercomputer.” He told the Bioethics Commission that bioethics has been a central tenet in the Project since its beginning, with funding devoted to social and ethical programs. One of the central themes, Dr. Rose said, was “the idea of responsible research and innovation.”

He emphasized five streams of the E.U.’s Human Brain Project:

  • First, a foresight lab to anticipate neuroscientific developments and work out scenarios of what would happen if certain developments came to fruition.
  • Second, a conceptual and philosophical analysis of what a simulation of the human brain would entail.
  • Third, a public dialogue with stakeholders. “Everything suggests that the more open, transparent, and dialogic the researchers are,” Dr. Rose said, “…the better it should be.”
  • Fourth, the Human Brain Project encourages ethical reflection among the researchers.
  • Finally, the Human Brain Project is concerned with governance and regulation of the Project as it moves forward.

Jonathan Montgomery, LL.M., Chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics spoke about a recent Nuffield Report on Bioethics, which made recommendations relevant to neuroscience. He said that the Council was able to identify three main virtues: inventiveness, humility, and responsibility. Within these tenets, the Council addressed a series of ethical challenges, including investigations into hype and research culture; engaging younger students in bioethical thinking; registries and data collection; and working with ethics research panels on difficult issues such as sham surgery.

The Bioethics Commission also heard from Stefano Simplici, Ph.D., of the International Bioethics Committee, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization about the issues of discrimination and stigma in bioethics. Dr. Simplici emphasized that “the lottery of social and biological life should not be grounds for disadvantages or advantages.” He expressed concerns about advances in neuroscience that might affect criminal law, in particular the concept of “mens rea,” or guilty mind, the idea of criminal intent.

The Human Brain Project’s Dr. Rose responded to Dr. Simplici’s concern: “A lot of what happens in new and emerging technologies, especially from the ethical point of view,” he said, “is highly speculative and overestimates what the neuroscience can actually do.”

The Bioethics Commission will take this international work into account as it considers how best to integrate ethics into neuroscience research.


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This is a space for the members and staff of the 2009 -2017 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.

As of January 15th, 2017 this blog will no longer be updated but continues to be available as an archive of the work of the 2009-2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

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