Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The 2014 International Neuroethics Society Annual Meeting

By Mallory Bowers

On November 14, the International Neuroethics Society convened for its annual meeting at the AAAS building in Washington, D.C. I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at INS through the generous support of the Emory Neuroethics Program. The society is an interdisciplinary group of scholars - including lawyers, clinicians, researchers, and policy makers - and the 2014 agenda reflected this diversity in expertise.

The conference opened with a short talk by Chaka Fattah, the U.S. representative for Pennsylvania’s 2nd congressional district. As a Philadelphia native, I was excited to learn that Congressman Fattah was an architect of the Fattah Neuroscience Initiative, which was an impetus for developing the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

Courtesy of Gillian Hue

Discussion of the BRAIN initiative continued through the following panels, “The BRAIN Initiative & the Human Brain Project: an Ethical Focus” and “The Future of Neuroscience Research & Ethical Implications”. Panelist Stephen Hauser spoke about the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, while Henry Markram discussed the Human Brain Project – the European-based research collaboration to establish innovative neurotechnologies and develop a more thorough understanding of the human brain. Representatives of several scientific funding institutions (Dr. Tom Insel – Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. George Koob – Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and Dr. Geoff Ling – Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) discussed the progress of neuroscience research, while emphasizing the need for continued advancement. Although the morning panels were interesting (as a behavioral neuroscientist, seeing Dr. Tom Insel was quite thrilling), I was left with the impression that the scientific “establishment” was only beginning to scratch the surface of the neuroethical implications of the research being conducted by scientists like myself. I wondered if any of the morning panelists attended the later sessions, which discussed more neuroethically hard-hitting issues, such as “Neuroscience in the Courts” and “Neuroscience and Human Rights”.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Media and social stigma can influence the patient adaptation to neurotechnologies and DBS

By Daniela Ovadia

Daniela Ovadia is the co-director of the Neuroscience and Society Lab in the Brain and Behavioral Sciences Department of the University of Pavia and is the scientific director of Agenzia Zoe. 

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is one of the oldest neuromodulation techniques; it was approved by the FDA in 1997 for the treatment of essential tremor, and a few years later, in 2002, the indication was extended to the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and dystonia (in 2003). In 2009 a new era for DBS started when the FDA also approved it as a therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some patients experienced a very good outcome, while others were less lucky and experienced side effects such as cognitive, behavioral or psychosocial impairments. DBS is now a common procedure for the treatment of many motor and behavioral impairments. As certain patients associations and civil liberties groups claimed that psychosurgery was back, and with it the social control on the patient’s mind, the media became interested in the topic. With the aim to protect the use of a promising technology, scientists and researchers also became involved in the field.

In this recently published article, authors Mecacci and Haselager focus their attention on the conceptual framework influencing the lack of compliance (or maladaptation, as they define it) to DBS implants. They identify two key elements determining patients expectations toward the effects of this neurodevice: mind-brain dualism (or, at the opposite, a braincentric point of view on human nature and behavior) and a hype in presenting potential benefits of new neurotechnologies. Both can modulate the patient’s expectations and influence the clinical and adverse effects of the device. But even if the authors cite the role of the media in shaping the public perception of new brain technologies and in building common knowledge about them, Mecacci and Haselager don’t delve deeply into the topic.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

An overview of Neurointerventions and the Law: Regulating Human Capacity (Lawyers, Neuroscientists, Philosophers, and Psychologists in Conversation)

During the weekend of September 12th, Georgia State University was home to fascinating conversations between prominent lawyers, neuroscientists, philosophers, and psychologists. The challenging, thought-provoking, and interdisciplinary nature of this forum was condensed within its title: Neurointerventions and the Law: Regulating Human Mental Capacity.

Image from AJOB Neuroscience

Organized by the Atlanta Neuroethics Consortium (ANEC), the conference sought debate on the legal implications of using modern neuro-interventions. Some of the questions that were raised included, but were not limited to:
  • What mental capacities does one need in order to be eligible for trial? For punishment? For release? For cognitive enhancement?
  • What policies should be in place to control such neuro-interventions?
  • What are the current neuro-interventions used in the courts, and how are they regulated?
  • How should we view the relationship between mental capacity and both moral and legal responsibility? 

Image from Knowing Neurons

The conference gathered many prominent members of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. Some of the participants were Senior Judge Andre Davis (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit), Nita Farahany (Duke University), Walter Glannon (University of Calgary, Stephen Morse (University of Pennsylvania Law School), Justice David Nahmias (Supreme Court of Georgia), and Paul Root Wolpe (Emory Center for Ethics).

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Agency Revisited: Dr. Heidi Ravven on Moral Psychology, Ethics and the Myth of Free Will

By Stephanie Hare

Stephanie Hare is a second-year PhD student studying neuroscience at Georgia State University. She is the recipient of the first 2CI Neuroethics Doctoral Fellowship and has research interests in psychiatry, law and the normative impact of neuroimaging research. You can connect with Steph via email at share1@student.gsu.edu or use her Twitter handle, @NeuroSteph.

On September 20, Emory University hosted a book talk and signing with Dr. Heidi Ravven, author of The Self Beyond Itself: An Alternative History of Ethics, the New Brain Sciences and the Myth of Free Will. Dr. Ravven received an unsolicited $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to write a book rethinking traditional ethical frameworks and theories of moral agency. As a leading scholar on the work of Baruch Spinoza and Jewish philosophy, Ravven is perfectly situated to recognize socio-cultural assumptions regarding our beliefs about free will and agency, allowing for the consideration of alternative perspectives. For nine years, she performed research on new findings from psychology and neuroscience to gain deeper insight into the fundamental facts about human nature and flourishing, and in turn, what we can and should reasonably expect of each other as moral agents.

Via hamilton.edu