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06/09/2014

Bioethics Commission Continues Discussion about Neuroscience and Ethics

Contemporary neuroscience has begun to make important breakthroughs, and given the complexity of the brain, scientists recognize we must better understand the brain in order to make desired progress.  As researchers learn about the brain and its relation to the mind, fundamental questions arise about what makes us human.  Accompanying ethical considerations must be addressed.

That is why President Obama requested that the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) review the ethical considerations of neuroscience research and its application as part of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

Last month, the Bioethics Commission released the first of two reports in response to this charge: Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society.  In that report the Bioethics Commission recommended integrating ethics explicitly and systematically into neuroscience research across the life of a research endeavor.

During this meeting in Atlanta the Bioethics Commission will continue its work in response to President Obama’s charge. It will consider the ethical and societal implications of neuroscience research and its applications more broadly.  The Commission will examine implications that scientists, ethicists, educators, private funders, and the public should be prepared to handle.

“A strongly integrated research and ethics infrastructure—as recommended in our recent report—will be well equipped to address these ethical implications,” said Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., Chair of the Bioethics Commission, as she opened the Commission’s public meeting.

Over the next two days the Bioethics Commission will hear from experts on topics including neuroscience research across life stages – from infancy through old age; data sharing and access in neuroscience; the potential neuroscience research holds for us all, particularly for affected communities like those diagnosed with or at risk for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or mental illness, for example.

The President asked the Bioethics Commission to “identify proactively a set of core ethical standards – both to guide neuroscience research and to address some of the ethical dilemmas that may be raised by the application of neuroscience research findings.”

The Bioethics Commission has held five previous public meetings on the topic and, in addition to this meeting in Atlanta, has at least one more meeting scheduled for August. The Bioethics Commission’s process is well underway toward developing recommendations to respond to the second part of the President’s request.

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