|Image courtesy to NIH Image Gallery
|Image courtesy to Ávila, J, Wikimedia Commons
Nectome has tried to deflect some of this ethical controversy by attempting to target terminally ill patients who elect for physician-assisted suicide and by capitalizing on California’s End of Life Option Act passed two years ago. However, the questions still remain as to whether the terminally ill patient is competent enough to properly consent to a physician-assisted suicide and whether state laws properly account for these ethical implications. For example, Vermont and Colorado laws state that the patient can choose whether to participate in physician-assisted suicide, whereas the right to die is illegal under the state laws of Mississippi and Georgia. In this way, Nectome’s reliance on the physician-assisted suicide route is fraught with ethical and legal implications due to the start-up’s process currently being legal in only a handful of states. Laws also change. For example, California judge Daniel Ottolia recently overturned the physician assisted suicide law on the account that it was ethically controversial to open the door for the pressure and means for individuals to indirectly end their own lives.
|Image to Jared Rodriguez, Flickr
Even more ethically concerning is that Nectome is now claiming it will test organoids, artificially engineered tissues, along with simulations, as an option to house and restore consciousness. Organoids have become attractive to biotechnology companies; therefore, ethical concerns such as whether organoids can develop consciousness or personhood have already arisen (Farahany et. al, 2018). Even though brain organoid signaling is primitive, cells can differentiate into specific regions; therefore, as research progresses, clear legal boundaries must be drawn in order to define whether and to what extent bioengineered brains really constitute legal persons. More specifically, before we can even begin the legal personhood debate, we must first define whether consciousness, and with that, personhood, can be portrayed in an algorithm and transferred to artificial tissue.
Ankita Moss is an undergraduate student at Emory University majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. Ankita has had a strong interest in neuroethics since high-school and hopes to contribute to the field professionally in the future. Aside from neuroscience and neuroethics, she is also very passionate about start-ups and entrepreneurship and founded the Catalyst biotechnology think-tank at Emory Entrepreneurship and Venture Management. Therefore, Ankita hopes to one day specifically navigate the ethical implications of neurotechnology startups and their impact on issues of identity and personhood.
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Moss, A. (2018). Mind Travel. The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on , from http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2018/12/mind-travel.html