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10/01/2014

Bioethics Commission Participates in White House BRAIN Conference

At the White House BRAIN Conference yesterday, Lisa M. Lee, Executive Director of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) joined other representatives from federal agencies to discuss the progress and the goals of the BRAIN Initiative.  Her remarks, as part of the panel “Current Activities, Long-Term Goals, and Critical Components for Success,” follow.

Dr. Holdren, colleagues, honored guests:

Thank you for the opportunity to update you on the Bioethics Commission’s progress and role related to this White House Grand Challenge.

We all know that advances in biomedicine, science, and technology come with a range of ethical considerations.

The Bioethics Commission is an independent advisory panel comprising a variety of disciplines including law, philosophy, medicine, science, and engineering. We seek to identify policies and practices that will ensure that scientific research, health care delivery, and technological innovation are conducted in a socially and ethically responsible manner.

So, we were delighted last year when President Obama asked us to review the ethical considerations associated with neuroscience research as part of the BRAIN Initiative.

Earlier this year, we released the first of two reports in response to his charge. That report: Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society. We’ve heard that word a lot today—”integrative”—and that’s my message here.

In Gray Matters the Commission called for adequate and clearly demarcated funding to achieve its recommendation of integrating ethics explicitly and systematically throughout neuroscience research.

Such integration allows us to incorporate ethical insights into the scientific process and to consider societal implications of neuroscience research from the very beginning.

Ethics integration – early and throughout research – can prevent the need for corrective interventions, and help build public trust in science. Integration prevents intervention.

We have collected public comments from professional organizations, affected communities and individuals and have engaged with the scientific community, all of whom bring to bear a variety of important perspectives on contemporary neuroscience.

We heard from many, including the Salk Institute, the Allen Institute, and the Kavli Foundation, and others.

In our first report, we actually recommended that BRAIN Initiative-related scientific advisory bodies include substantive participation by persons with relevant expertise in the ethical and societal implications of the neuroscience under consideration.

The Commission did not recommend a single model of integration – there are many good options and we reported on several of these. We did highlight DARPA’s exemplary work in this area. DARPA successfully combines several approaches to ethics integration including

  • Consulting with an independent panel of ethics experts,
  • Linking program managers with ethics mentors, and
  • Setting aside funds for ethics consultation.

In short – good science is ethical science. We point to DARPA’s example because we are keenly aware that ethics recommendations can be interpreted as just one more bureaucratic hurdle in the way of scientific discovery.

Clearly, DARPA’s integrated model has not hampered its progress or broken its bank.

Our commission works diligently to make practical recommendations— recommendations that both de-mystify ethics and facilitate good science. We know that so much can be gained from neuroscience research. And I think we all agree that we must ensure it does not come to a screeching halt because of one significant ethical lapse.

Thinking about these issues now and implementing our recommendations in a way that is compatible with your institution or agency can prevent that from happening.

Next, the Bioethics Commission is considering the implications of neuroscience research and its applications more broadly for our second report. We’re thinking about:

  • The ethical issues raised across stages of life – from infancy through old age,
  • And what neuroscience research might mean for various affected communities like those affected by Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and mental illness.

These types of community engagement play a key role in our deliberations We expect to hold at least one additional public meeting – in November – before concluding our deliberations and making a final set of recommendations.

Since by now you’ve no doubt picked up our theme, that ethics integration – early and throughout research – prevents intervention, I will close simply by saying that, on behalf of the 11 Members of the Bioethics Commission, we are delighted to be a part of this initiative – from its very beginning.

Thank you.

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