In Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society(Gray Matters, Vol. 1), the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) emphasized the need to integrate ethics throughout the life of neuroscience research and considered various approaches to integration. Early and explicit integration of ethics and neuroscience research enables scientists, ethicists, educators, public and private funders, policymakers, and the public to better recognize and address the ethical and societal implications of neuroscience research and its applications.
One foundational approach to integration is linking science and ethics education at all levels. Early ethics education is critical for preparing future scientists, including neuroscientists, to cultivate ethical reflection and to integrate ethical considerations into their work. Professional development for experienced investigators is equally important, as ethics education is more likely to inform action when it is continually reinforced. Ethics education should occur at many points before, during, and after graduate school.
Integration through education is a two-way process that involves both exposing scientists to ethics and ethicists to science. Ethics programs should also require exposure to scientific methods. For example, students could be required to complete a laboratory science component to enhance their scientific literacy and understanding. Training scientists in ethics and training ethicists in the sciences are both important for effective integration.
The Bioethics Commission recognized several examples of existing efforts to integrate ethics education at the secondary and undergraduate levels in Gray Matters, Vol. 1, and concluded that further development and evaluation of models for integrating ethics and science through all levels of education are needed. The Bioethics Commission also called for educational models to be shared, allowing researchers to evaluate various models and to identify and apply best practices. When successfully implemented, ethics education can effectively prepare future scientists and better engage practicing scientists—including neuroscientists—to integrate ethics into their work.
In Gray Matters, Vol. 1, the Bioethics Commission’s third recommendation addresses integration of ethics and science through education at all levels:
Government agencies and other research funders should initiate and support research that develops innovative models and evaluates existing and new models for integrating ethics and science through education at all levels.
An overarching theme throughout the Bioethics Commission’s reports has been the need for improvement in bioethics education. The Bioethics Commission is actively committed to doing its part to enhance such education, contributing to bioethics pedagogy by creating free and publicly accessible educational modules based on Commission reports; drafting study guides, primers, and other materials that facilitate deeper examination of the Commission’s ethical analyses; and engaging in outreach and teaching opportunities.