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Posted on October 10, 2016 at 10:00 AM

bioethics_twitter-v3-08The fifth episode of the Bioethics Commission’s podcast series Ethically Sound, “Gray Matters,” is now available. The Bioethics Commission has released 10 reports on a variety of ethically challenging topics. Ethical issues in neuroscience were the focus of the reports Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society (Volume 1), and Gray Matters: Topics at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society (Volume 2).

The two Gray Matters reports responded to a charge from President Barack Obama, in conjunction with the announcement of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, a White House Grand Challenge. President Obama asked the Commission to “consider the potential implications of the discoveries that we expect will flow from studies of the brain.” In Gray Matters Volume 1, the Bioethics Commission recommended early and explicit integration of ethics into neuroscience research. In Gray Matters Volume 2, the Commission focused on three “cauldrons of controversy” in neuroscience: cognitive enhancement, research involving participants with impaired consent capacity, and the use of neuroscience in the legal system.

This episode of Ethically Sound opens with a narrative from Dr. Stephen Morse, Associate Director of the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Morse discussed a case where neuroscience was used as the basis of an insanity defense in a murder trial, as the defendant had a cyst in his left frontal lobe that the defendant’s legal counsel argued had impaired his judgment. When discussing the two positions taken by the prosecution and the defense, Dr. Morse said, “The defense took the position that the prosecution was afraid of the expert evidence having to do with the brain tumor.”

The podcast also features Bioethics Commission member Dr. Stephan Hauser, Director of the University of California, San Francisco Weill Institute for Neurosciences, and Chair of the Department of Neurology. Hillary Wicai Viers, former Communications Director with the Bioethics Commission staff, conducted the interview. Dr. Hauser discussed the array of ethical challenges that the Bioethics Commission addressed in its reports, including the importance of integrating ethics into all stages of neuroscience research. Dr. Hauser said, “Well-designed, ethical neuroscience research will pave the way for progress that has the potential to benefit so many [people].”

Episode 5 is now on our website, as well as on our SoundCloud, YouTube and iTunes pages. In addition to this episode, listeners can access the first four episodes “Safeguarding Children,” “Ethics and Ebola,” “Anticipate and Communicate,”and “Privacy and Progress.” Listeners can follow the podcast using #EthicallySound or by following us on Twitter @bioethicsgov. Stay tuned for the sixth episode in our series, “New Directions,” which will be available on October 17, 2016. We welcome comments and feedback at


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