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

Bioethics Deliberation and Education in Gray Matters

In last week’s continuation of our “Deliberation and Education” series, we discussed the role of deliberation and education in the recommendations issued by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) in its sixth report: Anticipate and Communicate. This week’s post will examine deliberation and education in the Bioethics Commission’s Gray Matters reports.

As part of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative announced in April 2013, President Obama asked the Bioethics Commission to review the ethical issues associated with the conduct and application of neuroscience research advances. Gray Matters is a two volume Commission report on neuroscience and ethics.

In Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society (Gray Matters, Vol. 1), released in May 2014, the Bioethics Commission focused on the importance of integrating ethics and neuroscience early and explicitly throughout the research endeavor, and called for funding for ethics. In Gray Matters: Topics at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society (Gray Matters, Vol. 2), released in March 2015, the Commission focused its analysis on three particularly controversial topics that illustrate the ethical tensions and societal implications of advancing neuroscience and technology.

In Gray Matters, Vol. 1, the Bioethics Commission made four recommendations focused on integrating ethics and neuroscience research. In its third recommendation, the Commission directly recommended education as a part of this integration:

Government agencies and other research funders should initiate and support research that develops innovative models and evaluates existing and new models for integrating ethics and science through education at all levels.

During its deliberations, the Bioethics Commission heard from a number of scientists and educators who emphasized the importance of ensuring that researchers understand the role of ethics in good science. The Commission concluded that ethics and science education should be integrated across the curriculum at all levels, not just in graduate school, in order to create a strong, lasting foundation.

In Gray Matters, Vol. 2, the Bioethics Commission focused its analysis on three topics: cognitive enhancement, consent capacity, and neuroscience and the legal system. The Commission made 14 recommendations to guide the ethical progress of neuroscience research and its applications; the recommendations are divided by topic area and including one concluding recommendation. The Commission included education in its tenth recommendation, under neuroscience and the legal system:

Government bodies and professional organizations, including legal societies and nonprofit organizations, should develop, expand, and promote training resources, primers, and other educational tools that explain the application of neuroscience to the legal system for distribution to members of the public, jurors, judges, attorneys, and others.

In addition, education was also included in the Bioethics Commission’s final, overarching recommendation:

The BRAIN Initiative should establish and fund organized, independent, multidisciplinary efforts to support neuroscience and ethics research and education, including the activities recommended in this report.

Education plays a central role in both volumes of Gray Matters. By providing ethics education and information on the advances of neuroscience, we can ensure that ethical neuroscientific advances continue while avoiding hype and misinformation in a rapidly evolving field.

Both volumes of Gray Matters and all other Bioethics Commission reports are available at

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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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