The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues has released a report on key ethical challenges facing the BRAIN Initiative. In Scientific American the chair of the Commission, Amy Gutman, summarizes the report’s main assertions that there are pressing needs to grapple in particular with the philosophical and political complexities of informed consent, neuroscience in court, and cognitive enhancements.
“To realize the promise of preventing, treating, and curing human brain disorders, neuroscientists need to conduct research,” writes Gutman. “While well-established ethical guidelines require that participants give fully informed consent before enrolling in research, many of the participants in brain studies have an impaired capacity to do so. Stroke is one example, and Alzheimer’s disease is another. How do researchers ethically conduct studies with people who suffer from advanced Alzheimer’s disease, which can prevent their ability to understand and consent to the studies?”
Gutman says laws are unclear about who can be a legally authorized representative, and there needs to be more research into “the factors that play a role in decision-making capacity to better assess when and whether that capacity is present.”
We Need to Unlock the Brain’s Secrets—Ethically (Scientific American, March 26, 2015)