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

Roundtable Discussion: Identifying Priority Ethical Questions in Neuroscience Research and Applications

An in-depth roundtable discussion involving both members and presenters wrapped up today’s Washington, D.C. meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission).

Today’s meeting was in response to President Obama’s request, as part of the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, that the Bioethics Commission review the ethical issues associated with the conduct of neuroscience research and implications of its findings.

Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., Chair of the Bioethics Commission, kicked off the session by requesting that panelists, “pick one piece of advice you’d like us to take into account.”

The following are highlights from the discussion that ensued:

“We need to think about… things such as education plans to help physicians and practitioners think through what they’re going to do when they have a young person come in their office and say, ‘Hey, I’d like this cause it would help me get through my test.’…We look at [cognitive enhancement] too narrowly and we need to treat it as a complex issue. ” – Rear Admiral Peter J. Delany, Ph.D., LCSW-C, Director of the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“I think one might characterize bioethics as the effort to try to prevent that which should not be done and enable that which should be done. Traditionally, I think the emphasis has been much more on the former—preventing that which should not be done. But, particularly within the enhancement arena, I think there is a big opportunity to start playing the second role:  to try to enable that which should be done. By looking for opportunities for things that would be very valuable and seeing what it is that hinders advancement in that area, particularly… regulatory framework [which] might be unsuitable for enhancement medicine.” – Nick Bostrom, Ph.D., Professor in the Faculty of Philosophy, Director of the Future of Humanity Institute, and Director of the Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology at University of Oxford.

“I think it’s a bit unusual in that we have a melding of federal provisions and state provisions… To what extent should we be adding a more federal system that doesn’t look so much to state law [for guidance on informed consent]?” – Jerry Menikoff, M.D., J.D., Director, Office for Human Research Protections, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Giving people 20 page single-spaced consent forms, having research assistants read the 20 page forms to them—both of which are sort of standard practice—doesn’t work well for anybody, but they are going to work less well for [potential research participants with diminished or diminishing capacity to consent]. So this might be an area in which particularly to encourage experimentation on the part of investigators and [internal review boards] to come up with and to support creative ways of conveying information and getting consent from participants.” – Paul S. Appelbaum, M.D., the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine & Law; Director of the Division of Psychiatry, Law, and Ethics; Director of the Center for Research on Ethical, Legal & Social Implications of Psychiatric, Neurologic & Behavioral Genetics in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University.

“I think bad science hurts everyone doing science…  There are a lot of these grandiose hopes for what might be accomplished in the new BRAIN Initiative and DARPA Initiative and again it’s going to have to be iterative step wise. No one is going to get to make the Hail Mary pass just because they throw a lot of money at it. And that it’s not about money, it’s about stepwise progress and science will move at the speed that it does.” – Helen Mayberg, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology, And Radiology, and the Dorothy C. Fuqua Chair, Psychiatric Neuroimaging and Therapeutics at Emory University School of Medicine.

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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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