Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Widening the use of deep brain stimulation: Ethical considerations in research on DBS to treat Anorexia Nervosa

by Carolyn Plunkett

Carolyn Plunkett is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Philosophy Department at The Graduate Center of City University of New York. She is also an Ethics Fellow in The Bioethics Program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and a Research Associate in the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center. Carolyn will defend her dissertation in spring 2016, and, beginning July 2016, will be a Rudin Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Divisions of Medical Ethics and Medical Humanities at NYU Langone Medical Center. 

This post is part of a series that recaps and offers perspectives on the conversations and debates that took place at the recent 2015 International Neuroethics Society meeting.

Karen Rommelfanger, founding editor of The Neuroethics Blog, heard a talk I gave on deep brain stimulation (DBS) at Brain Matters! 3 in 2012. Three years later, she heard a brief synopsis of a paper I presented a few weeks ago at the International Neuroethics Society Annual Meeting. Afterward, she came up to me and said, “Wow! Your views have changed!” I had gone from being wary about using DBS in adults, much less minors, to defending its use in teens with anorexia nervosa. She asked me to write about this transition for this blog, and present my recent research.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Do you have a mouse brain? The ethical imperative to use non-human primates in neuroscience research

by Carlie Hoffman

Much of today’s neuroscience research investigating human brain diseases and disorders utilizes animal models. Animals ranging from flies, rodents, and non-human primates are routinely used to model various disorders, with mice being most commonly utilized. Scientists employ these animal models to approximate human conditions and disorders in an accessible manner, with the ultimate purpose of applying the findings derived in the animal back into the human brain.

Rhesus macaques, a species of NHP often used in research.
The use of animals in research has been the source of much debate, with people either supporting or objecting their use, and objections arising from animal rights activists, proponents of critical neuroscience such as Nikolas Rose and Joelle Abi-Rached, and others. A main focus of this debate has also been the use of non-human primates (NHP) in research. The cognitive functions and behaviors of NHPs are more closely related to those seen in humans than are rodent cognitions and behaviors, thus causing primates to be held as the closest approximation of human brain functioning in both normal and disease states. Though some say NHP research is essential, others call for scaling down or even completely eliminating it. Strides have already been made towards the reduction and removal of NHPs from experimental research, as displayed by the substantial justification required to perform experiments utilizing them, the increasing efforts going towards developing alternative non-animal models (including the Human Brain Project’s goal to create a computer model of the human brain), and the recent reduction of the use of chimpanzees in research [2, 6].  A case was even brought to the New York Supreme Court earlier this year to grant personhood status to two research chimpanzees.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Why defining death leaves me cold

by John Banja, PhD

*Editor's note: In case you missed our annual Zombies and Zombethics (TM) Symposium entitled Really, Most Sincerely Dead. Zombies, Vampires and Ghosts. Oh my! you can watch our opening keynote by Dr. Paul Root Wolpe by clicking on the image below. We recommend starting at 9:54 min.


Two weeks ago, I attended a panel session on brain death at the annual conference of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities. Forgive the bad pun, but the experience left me cold and …lifeless(?). The panel consisted of three scholars revisiting the more than a decade old conversation on defining death. Despite a standing room only crowd, there was utterly nothing new. Rather, we heard a recitation of the very familiar categories that have historically figured in the “What does it mean to be dead?” debate, e.g., the irreversible cessation of cardio-respiratory activity, the Harvard Brain Death criteria, the somatic integration account, the 2008 Presidential Commission’s “loss of the drive to breathe,” and so on. I walked out thinking that we could come back next year, and the year after that, and the year after that and get no closer to resolving what it means to be dead.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Shrewder speculation: the challenge of doing anticipatory ethics well

by Dr. Hannah Maslen 

Hannah Maslen is a Research Fellow in Ethics at the Oxford Martin School and the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. She currently works on the Oxford Martin Programme on Mind and Machine, where she examines the ethical, legal, and social implications of various brain intervention and interface technologies, from brain stimulation devices to virtual reality. 

This post is part of a series that recaps and offers perspectives on the conversations and debates that took place at the recent 2015 International Neuroethics Society meeting.

In its Gray Matters report, the United States Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues underscored the importance of integrating ethics and neuroscience early and throughout the research endeavor. In particular, the Commission declared: 

"As we anticipate personal and societal implications of using such technologies, ethical considerations must be further deliberated.  
Executed well, ethics integration is an iterative and reflective process that enhances both scientific and ethical rigor." 

What is required to execute ethics integration well? How can philosophers make sure that their work has a constructive role to play in shaping research and policy-making?