Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The freedom to become an addict: The ethical implications of addiction vaccines

by Tabitha Moses 

Tabitha Moses, M.S., is Administrative and Research Coordinator at Lehman College, CUNY, as well as a Research Affiliate at the National Core for Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia. Tabitha earned her BA in Cognitive Science and Philosophy and MS in Biotechnology from The Johns Hopkins University. She has conducted research in the areas of addiction, mental illness, and emerging neurotechnologies. She hopes to continue her education through a joint MD/PhD in Neuroscience while maintaining a focus on neuroethics.

The introduction of “addiction vaccines” has brought with it a belief that we have the potential to cure addicts before they have ever even tried a drug. Proponents of addiction vaccines hold that they will:
  1. prevent children from becoming addicted to drugs in the future, 
  2. allow addicts to easily and safely stop using drugs, and 
  3. potentially lower the social and economic costs of addiction for society at large.
However, it is critical to be aware of the limitations and risks – both ethical and physical – of introducing these vaccines into mainstream medical care.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Combating neurohype

by Mo Costandi

Mo Costandi trained as a developmental neurobiologist and now works as a freelance writer based in London. His work has appeared in Nature, Science, and Scientific American, among other publications. He writes the Neurophilosophy blog, hosted by The Guardian, and is the author of 50 Human Brain Ideas You Really Need To Know, published by Quercus in 2013, and Neuroplasticity, forthcoming from MIT Press. Costandi also sits on the Board of Directors of the International Neuroethics Society.

In 2010, Judy Illes, president elect of the International Neuroethics Society, argued that neuroscientists need to communicate their research to the general public more effectively. Five years on, that message is still pertinent – and perhaps even more so.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Getting aHead: ethical issues facing human head transplants

By Ryan Purcell

Gummy bear head transplant, courtesy of flickr user Ella Phillips
In a widely circulated Boston Globe editorial this summer, Steven Pinker told bioethicists to “get out of the way” of scientific progress. There is abundant human suffering in the world today, he said, and the last thing we need is a bunch of hand wringing to slow down efforts to attenuate or even eliminate it. The prospect of head transplantation, however, has the potential to make us all a bit more appreciative of our local bioethicists. Even if there were not any technical issues (of which, there are of course plenty), coming to terms with the muddier personal and societal issues inherent in a procedure such as this could take quite a while. Nevertheless, Dr. Sergio Canavero is not planning to wait around and wants to perform a human head transplantation by the end of 2017. Are we ready?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Don’t miss our Special Issue of AJOB Neuroscience: The Social Brain

By Katie Strong, PhD

If you haven’t already, be sure to read the 6.3 Issue of AJOB Neuroscience, our special issue on The Social Brain guest edited by Dr. Jean Decety. The issue centers on the biological, neuroscientific, and clinical evidence for human social cognition, along with the philosophical and ethical arguments for modifying morality and social emotions and behaviors, such as empathy, trust, and cooperativity.

The first target article by Jean Decety and Jason M. Cowell entitled “Empathy, Justice, and Moral Behavior” argues that despite the importance of empathy for driving our social lives, forging necessary social bonds, and making complex decisions, empathy alone is not enough in regards to moral resolutions and judgements. While empathy underpins cooperativity and the formation of social bonds, empathy has evolved to promote bias and in-group social preferences. The target article provides evidence that empathy does not always lead to moral decisions, and empathy often favors in-group members over out-group members. Decision making can be biased to favor relatives or a single individual over many people and for that reason, reasoning must accompany empathy. “Empathy alone is powerless in the face of rationalization and denial. But reasoning and empathy can achieve great things,” state the authors at the conclusion of the paper.