Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Politics of Elder Care, Social Care, and the “Dementia Tax”: A View from the United Kingdom

By Richard Ashcroft

Professor Richard Ashcroft, an AJOB Neuroscience Editorial Board member, teaches medical law and ethics at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level in the Department of Law at Queen Mary University of London.

The United Kingdom has recently gone through a General Election. The main reason the election was called by Prime Minister Theresa May was to secure a stronger mandate for the ruling Conservative Party, which was governing with a small overall majority of 19 seats over the Opposition parties. PM May’s argument was that in the negotiations with the other member states of the European Union over the UK’s exit from that Union (Brexit), an increased majority would give her a stronger bargaining position. As the election turned out, the electorate returned the Conservatives with fewer seats, and PM May had to form a minority administration, with a partial agreement to support the Conservative Party made with one of the smaller parties, the Democratic Unionist Party, which only contests seats in Northern Ireland. As a result PM May has a working majority, but one that is more fragile, rather than stronger.

Commentators have suggested a number of reasons for this outcome, but there seems to be general agreement that a turning point in the electoral campaign was the release of the election manifesto of the Conservative Party. While there are many reasons that might explain the downturn in support for PM May, one particular policy announced in the manifesto, deemed the “dementia tax,” attracted widespread criticism. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Neuroethics Blog Series on Black Mirror: The Entire History of You

By Somnath Das

Somnath Das recently graduated from Emory University where he majored in Neuroscience and Chemistry. He will be attending medical school at Thomas Jefferson University starting in the Fall of 2017. The son of two Indian immigrants, he developed an interest in healthcare after observing how his extended family sought help from India's healthcare system to seek relief from chronic illnesses. Somnath’s interest in medicine currently focuses on understanding the social construction of health and healthcare delivery. Studying Neuroethics has allowed him to combine his love for neuroscience, his interest in medicine, and his wish to help others into a multidisciplinary, rewarding practice of scholarship which to this day enriches how he views both developing neurotechnologies and the world around him. 

Humans in the 21st century have an intimate relationship with technology. Much of our lives are spent being informed and entertained by screens. Technological advancements in science and medicine have helped and healed in ways we previously couldn’t dream of. But what unanticipated consequences may be lurking behind our rapid expansion into new technological territory? This question is continually being explored in the British sci-fi TV series Black Mirror, which provides a glimpse into the not-so-distant future and warns us to be mindful of how we treat our technology and how it can affect us in return. This piece is part of a series of posts that will discuss ethical issues surrounding neuro-technologies featured in the show and will compare how similar technologies are impacting us in the real world. 

*SPOILER ALERT* - The following contains plot spoilers for the Netflix television series Black Mirror.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Criminal Law and Neuroscience: Hope or Hype?

By Stephen J. Morse

Stephen J. Morse, J.D., Ph.D., is a lawyer and a psychologist. He is Ferdinand Wakeman Hubbell Professor of Law, Professor of Psychology and Law in Psychiatry, and Associate Director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Morse is also a Diplomate in Forensic Psychology of the American Board of Professional Psychology. He has been working on the relation of neuroscience to law, ethics and social policy for over two decades, has written numerous articles and book chapters on these topics and has edited A Primer on Neuroscience and Criminal Law (Oxford University Press, 2013, with Adina Roskies). He was previously Co-Director of the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project and was a member of the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Research Network. Professor Morse is a recipient of the American Academy of Forensic Psychology’s Distinguished Contribution Award, and a recipient of the American Psychiatric Association’s Isaac Ray Award for distinguished contributions to forensic psychiatry and the psychiatric aspects of jurisprudence. 

The discovery of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 1991, which permits non-invasive imaging of brain function, and the wide availability of scanners for research starting in about 2000 fueled claims that what we would learn about the brain and behavior would transform and perhaps revolutionize criminal law. Most commonly, many thought that traditional notions of criminal responsibility would be undermined for various reasons, such as demonstrating that people really cannot control themselves as well as we believe, or as indicating that more action was automatic, thoughtless and non-rational than we think. Most radically, the neuroexuberants argued that neuroscience shows that no one is really responsible because we are not agents; rather, we are victims of neuronal circumstances that mechanistically produce our epiphenomenal thoughts and our bodily movements. Similar claims were made when the genome was cracked. The age of cognitive, affective, and social neuroscience (behavioral neuroscience)—the neurosciences most relevant to law—is almost two decades old. What have we learned that is legally relevant and how has it transformed criminal law doctrine and practice?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Grounding ethics from below: CRISPR-cas9 and genetic modification

By Anjan Chatterjee

The University of Pennsylvania Anjan Chatterjee is the Frank A. and Gwladys H. Elliott Professor and Chair of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital. He is a member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his BA in Philosophy from Haverford College, MD from the University of Pennsylvania and completed his neurology residency at the University of Chicago. His clinical practice focuses on patients with cognitive disorders. His research addresses questions about spatial cognition and language, attention, neuroethics, and neuroaesthetics. He wrote The Aesthetic Brain: How we evolved to desire beauty and enjoy art and co-edited: Neuroethics in Practice: Mind, medicine, and society, and The Roots of Cognitive Neuroscience: behavioral neurology and neuropsychology. He is or has been on the editorial boards of: American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience, Behavioural Neurology, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Neuropsychology, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, European Neurology, Empirical Studies of the Arts, The Open Ethics Journal and Policy Studies in Ethics, Law and Technology. He was awarded the Norman Geschwind Prize in Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology by the American Academy of Neurology and the Rudolph Arnheim Prize for contribution to Psychology and the Arts by the American Psychological Association. He is a founding member of the Board of Governors of the Neuroethics Society, the past President of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, and the past President of the Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology Society. He serves on the Boards of Haverford College, the Associated Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired and The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 

In 1876, Gustav Fechner (1876) introduced an “aesthetics from below.” He contrasted this approach with an aesthetics from above by which he meant that, rather than defining aesthetic experiences using first principles, one could investigate people’s responses to stimuli and use these data to ground aesthetic theory. Neuroethics could benefit with a similar grounding by an ethics from below, especially when ethical concerns affect public policy and regulation.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Revising the Ethical Framework for Deep Brain Stimulation for Treatment-Resistant Depression

By Somnath Das

Somnath Das recently graduated from Emory University where he majored in Neuroscience and Chemistry. He will be attending medical school at Thomas Jefferson University starting in the Fall of 2017. Studying Neuroethics has allowed him to combine his love for neuroscience, his interest in medicine, and his wish to help others into a multidisciplinary, rewarding practice of scholarship which to this day enriches how he views both developing neurotechnologies and the world around him. 

Despite the prevalence of therapeutics for treating depression, approximately 20% of patients fail to respond to multiple treatments such as antidepressants, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and electroconvulsive therapy (Fava, 2003). Zeroing on an effective treatment of “Treatment-Resistant Depression” (TRD) has been the focus of physicians and scientists. Dr. Helen Mayberg’s groundbreaking paper on Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) demonstrates that electrical modulation an area of the brain called subgenual cingulate resulted in a “sustained remission of depression in four of six (TRD) patients” These patients experienced feelings that were described as “lifting a void,” or “a sudden calmness.” (Mayberg et al. 2005). The importance of this treatment lies in the fact participants who received DBS for TRD (DBS-TRD) often have no other treatment avenues, and thus Mayberg’s findings paved the way for DBS to have great treatment potential for severely disabling depression. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Diagnostic dilemmas: When potentially transient preexisting diagnoses confer chronic harm

By Elaine Walker

Elaine Walker is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Emory University.   She leads a research laboratory that is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to study risk factors for psychosis and other serious mental illnesses.  Her research is focused on the behavioral and neuromaturational changes that precede psychotic disorders.   She has published over 300 scientific articles and 6 books. 

The diagnostic process can be complicated by many factors. Most of these factors reflect limitations in our scientific understanding of the nature and course of disorders. But in the current US healthcare climate, legislative proposals concerning insurance coverage for preexisting conditions add another layer of complexity to the diagnostic process. It is a layer of complexity that is riddled with ethical dilemmas which are especially salient in the field of mental health care. The following discussion addresses the interplay between medical practice and health-care system policy in the diagnostic process. The diagnosis of psychiatric disorders is emphasized because they present unique challenges [1]. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Neuroethics Blog Series on Black Mirror: Be Right Back

By Somnath Das

Somnath Das recently graduated from Emory University where he majored in Neuroscience and Chemistry. He will be attending medical school at Thomas Jefferson University starting in the Fall of 2017. The son of two Indian immigrants, he developed an interest in healthcare after observing how his extended family sought help from India's healthcare system to seek relief from chronic illnesses. Somnath’s interest in medicine currently focuses on understanding the social construction of health and healthcare delivery. Studying Neuroethics has allowed him to combine his love for neuroscience, his interest in medicine, and his wish to help others into a multidisciplinary, rewarding practice of scholarship which to this day enriches how he views both developing neurotechnologies and the world around him. 
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Humans in the 21st century have an intimate relationship with technology. Much of our lives are spent being informed and entertained by screens. Technological advancements in science and medicine have helped and healed in ways we previously couldn’t dream of. But what unanticipated consequences may be lurking behind our rapid expansion into new technological territory? This question is continually being explored in the British sci-fi TV series Black Mirror, which provides a glimpse into the not-so-distant future and warns us to be mindful of how we treat our technology and how it can affect us in return. This piece is part of a series of posts that will discuss ethical issues surrounding neuro-technologies featured in the show and will compare how similar technologies are impacting us in the real world. 

*SPOILER ALERT* - The following contains plot spoilers for the Netflix television series Black Mirror

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mental Privacy in the Age of Big Data

By Jessie Ginsberg

Jessie Ginsberg is a second year student in the Master of Arts in Bioethics program and a third year law student at Emory University. 

A father stood at the door of his local Minneapolis Target, fuming, and demanding to speak to the store manager. Holding coupons for maternity clothes and nursing furniture in front of the manager, the father exclaimed, “My daughter got this in the mail! She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

Target was not trying to get her pregnant. Unbeknownst to the father, his daughter was due in August.  

In his February 16, 2012 New York Times article entitled, “How Companies Learn Your Secrets,” Charles Duhigg reported on this Minneapolis father and daughter and how companies like Target use marketing analytics teams to develop algorithms to anticipate consumers’ current and future needs. Accumulating data from prior purchases, coupon use, surveys submitted, emails from Target that were opened, and demographics, a team of analysts render each consumer’s decision patterns into neatly packaged data sets tailored to predict their future buying choices. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fake News – A Role for Neuroethics?

By Neil Levy

Neil Levy is professor of philosophy at Macquarie University, Sydney, and a senior research fellow at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford.

Fake news proliferates on the internet, and it sometimes has consequential effects. It may have played a role in the recent election of Donald Trump to the White House, and the Brexit referendum. Democratic governance requires a well-informed populace: fake news seems to threaten the very foundations of democracy.

How should we respond to its challenge? The most common response has been a call for greater media literacy. Fake news often strikes more sophisticated consumers as implausible. But there are reasons to think that the call for greater media literacy is unlikely to succeed as a practical solution to the problem of fake news. For one thing, the response seems to require what it seeks to bring about: a better informed population. For another, while greater sophistication might allow us to identify many instances of fake news, some of it is well crafted enough to fool the most sophisticated (think of the recent report that the FBI was fooled by a possibly fabricated Russian intelligence report).

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Have I Been Cheating? Reflections of an Equestrian Academic

By Kelsey Drewry

Kelsey Drewry is a student in the Master of Arts in Bioethics program at the Emory University Center for Ethics where she works as a graduate assistant for the Healthcare Ethics Consortium. Her current research focuses on computational linguistic analysis of health narrative data, and the use of illness narrative for informing clinical practice of supportive care for patients with neurodegenerative disorders.

After reading a recent study in Frontiers in Public Health (Ohtani et al. 2017) I realized I might have unwittingly been taking part in cognitive enhancement throughout the vast majority of my life. I have been a dedicated equestrian for over twenty years, riding recreationally and professionally in several disciplines. A fairly conservative estimate suggests I’ve spent over 5000 hours in the saddle. However, new evidence from a multi-university study in Japan suggests that horseback riding improves certain cognitive abilities in children. Thus, it seems my primary hobby and passion may have unfairly advantaged me in my academic career. Troubled by the implication that I may have unknowingly spent much of my time violating the moral tenets upon which my intellectual work rests, I was compelled to investigate the issue.