Many drugs have therapeutic off-label uses for which they were not originally designed. Some drugs designed to treat neuropsychiatric and other disorders may enhance certain normal cognitive and affective functions. Because the long-term effects of cognitive and affective enhancement are not known and may be harmful, a precautionary principle limiting its use seems warranted. As an expression of autonomy, though, competent individuals should be permitted to take cognition- and mood-enhancing agents. But they need to be aware of the risks in (...) chronic use of these agents and to take responsibility for their effects. A reasonable middle ground between these positions is to warn those who choose to enhance that doing so entails risks. (shrink)
Many neuroscientists have claimed that our minds are just a function of and thus reducible to our brains. I challenge neuroreductionism by arguing that the mind emerges from and is shaped by interaction among the brain, body, and environment. The mind is not located in the brain but is distributed among these three entities. I then explore the implications of the distributed mind for neuroethics.
Brain implants, such as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), which are designed to improve motor, mood and behavioural pathology, present unique challenges to our understanding of identity, agency and free will. This is because these devices can have visible effects on persons' physical and psychological properties yet are essentially undetectable when operating correctly. They can supplement and compensate for one's inherent abilities and faculties when they are compromised by neuropsychiatric disorders. Further, unlike talk therapy or pharmacological treatments, patients need not ‘do’ (...) anything for the treatment to take effect. If one accepts, as we argue here, that brain implants are unique among implantable types of devices, then this can have significant implications for what it means to persist as the same person and be the source of one's thoughts and actions. By examining two of the most common indications for DBS in current use, namely in the motor (Parkinson's Disease) and psychiatric (Major Depression) domains, we further argue that although DBS, as it is currently applied, does not necessarily represent a unique threat to personal identity and agency per se, it introduces an unprecedented ‘third party’ into the debate on these concepts. In this way, DBS can be used as a tool to begin probing, both conceptually and empirically, some of philosophy's most perennial metaphysical questions. (shrink)
Psychopathy involves impaired capacity for prudential and moral reasoning due to impaired capacity for empathy, remorse, and sensitivity to fear-inducing stimuli. Brain abnormalities and genetic polymorphisms associated with these traits appear to justify the claim that psychopaths cannot be morally responsible for their behavior. Yet psychopaths are capable of instrumental reasoning in achieving their goals, which suggests that they have some capacity to respond to moral reasons against performing harmful acts and refrain from performing them. The cognitive and affective impairment (...) of the psychopath justifies mitigated responsibility, but not excuse. (shrink)
This book is a discussion of the most timely and contentious issues in the two branches of neuroethics: the neuroscience of ethics; and the ethics of neuroscience. Drawing upon recent work in psychiatry, neurology, and neurosurgery, it develops a phenomenologically inspired theory of neuroscience to explain the brain-mind relation. The idea that the mind is shaped not just by the brain but also by the body and how the human subject interacts with the environment has significant implications for free will, (...) moral responsibility, and moral justification of actions. It also provides a better understanding of how different interventions in the brain can benefit or harm us. In addition, the book discusses brain imaging techniques to diagnose altered states of consciousness, deep-brain stimulation to treat neuropsychiatric disorders, and restorative neurosurgery for neurodegenerative diseases. It examines the medical and ethical trade-offs of these interventions in the brain when they produce both positive and negative physical and psychological effects, and how these trade-offs shape decisions by physicians and patients about whether to provide and undergo them. (shrink)
Vulnerability is an important criterion to assess the ethical justification of the inclusion of participants in research trials. Currently, vulnerability is often understood as an attribute inherent to a participant by nature of a diagnosed condition. Accordingly, a common ethical concern relates to the participant’s decisionmaking capacity and ability to provide free and informed consent. We propose an expanded view of vulnerability that moves beyond a focus on consent and the intrinsic attributes of participants. We offer specific suggestions for how (...) relational aspects and the dynamic features of vulnerability could be more fully captured in current discussions and research practices. (shrink)
In 1999, a case was described on national television in which a woman had enlisted onto an international bone marrow registry with the altruistic desire to offer her bone marrow to some unidentified individual in need of a transplant. The potential donor then was notified that she was a compatible match with someone dying from leukemia and gladly donated her marrow, which cured the recipient of the disease. Years later, though, the recipient developed end-stage renal disease, a consequence of the (...) high-dose chemotherapy she received earlier to destroy her stem cells and prepare her for the bone marrow transplant. Finding a suitable donor for a kidney transplant proved extremely difficult. Desperate, she requested that the donor registry personnel help her locate the individual who earlier was determined to be a compatible donor and asked this now-identifiable individual to consider donating one of her two normally functioning kidneys for a kidney transplant. (shrink)
Advances in genetic technology in general and medical genetics in particular will enable us to intervene in the process of human biological development which extends from zygotes and embryos to people. This will allow us to control to a great extent the identities and the length and quality of the lives of people who already exist, as well as those we bring into existence in the near and distant future. Genes and Future People explores two general philosophical questions, one metaphysical, (...) the other moral: (1) How do genes, and different forms of genetic intervention (gene therapy, genetic enhancement, presymptomatic genetic testing of adults, genetic testing of preimplantation embryos), affect the identities of the people who already exist and those we bring into existence? and (2) How do these interventions benefit or harm the people we cause to exist in the near future and those who will exist in the distant future by satisfying or defeating their interest in having reasonably long and disease-free lives? Genes and Future People begins by explaining the connection between genes and disease, placing genetic within a framework of evolutionary biology. It then discusses such topics as how genes and genetic intervention influence personal identity, what genetic testing of individuals and the knowledge resulting from it entails about responsibility to others who may be at risk, as well as how gene therapy and genetic enhancement can affect the identities of people and benefit or harm them. Furthermore, it discusses various moral aspects of cloning human beings and body parts. Finally, it explores the metaphysical and moral implications of genetic manipulation of the mechanisms of aging to extend the human life span.The aim Genes and Future People is to move philosophers, bioethicists, and readers in general to reflect on the extent to which genes determine whether we are healthy or diseased, our identities as persons, the quality of our lives, and our moral obligations to future generations of people. (shrink)
In a provocative 1991 paper, Alvin Moss and Mark Siegler argued that it may be fair to give individuals with alcohol-related end-stage liver disease lower priority for a liver transplant than those who develop end-stage liver disease from other factors. Like other organs, there is a substantial gap between the available livers for transplantation and the number of people who need liver transplants. Yet, unlike those with end-stage renal disease, who can survive for some time on dialysis before receiving a (...) kidney transplant, those with liver failure will die without a liver transplant. (shrink)
Research into the mechanisms of aging has suggested the possibility of extending the human life span. But there may be evolutionary biological reasons for senescence and the limits of the cell cycle that explain the infirmities of aging and the eventual demise of all human organisms. Genetic manipulation of the mechanisms of aging could over many generations alter the course of natural selection and shift the majority of deleterious mutations in humans from later to earlier stages of life. This could (...) harm people in the distant future by making them more susceptible to premature disease and mortality. Thus there are biological and moral reasons to carefully consider the implications of exploiting this technology on a broad scale to extend the lives of people in the present and near future. (shrink)
Psychopathy is one of the most frequently cited disorders in discussions of moral and criminal responsibility. Many philosophers and psychologists have argued that psychopaths’ impaired capacity for empathy, diminished responses to fear-inducing stimuli, and failure to conform to social norms indicate that they are not responsible for their actions. In “Philosophers on psychopaths: A cautionary tale in interdisciplinarity,” Jarkko Jalava and Stephanie Griffiths cite psychological data from case studies, the moral/conventional distinction task, fear conditioning and facial affect recognition experiments in (...) arguing that philosophers systematically misinterpret or simplify the data to support their conclusions... (shrink)
Many believe that it is morally wrong to give lower priority for a liver transplant to alcoholics with end-stage liver disease than to patients whose disease is not alcohol-related. Presumably, alcoholism is a disease that results from factors beyond one's control and therefore one cannot be causally or morally responsible for alcoholism or the liver failure that results from it. Moreover, giving lower priority to alcoholics unfairly singles them out for the moral vice of heavy drinking. I argue that the (...) etiology of alcoholism may involve enough control for the alcoholic to be responsible for his condition and accordingly have a weaker claim to receive a new liver than someone who acquires the disease through no fault of his own. In addition, I show why it is more plausible to reframe the question of priority in terms of control and responsibility rather than virtue and vice. Given that medical resources like livers are scarce, some people may justifiably be given lower priority than others in receiving these resources. (shrink)
Today, advances in medicine and biotechnology occur at a rapid pace and have a profound impact on our lives. Mechanical devices can sustain an injured person's life indefinitely. Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the body and brain can reveal disorders before symptoms appear. Genetic testing of embryos can predict whether people will have diseases earlier or later in life. It may even become possible to clone human beings. These and other developments raise difficult ethical questions. (...) Biomedical Ethics is an engaging philosophical introduction to the most important ethical positions and arguments in six areas of biomedicine: the patient-doctor relationship, medical research on humans, reproductive rights and technologies, genetics, medical decisions at the end of life, and the allocation of scarce medical resources. Concisely capturing the historical, contemporary, and future-oriented aspects of the field, author Walter Glannon discusses both perennial issues in medicine, such as doctors' duties to patients, and recent and emerging issues in scientific innovation, including gene therapy and cloning. Ideal for undergraduate courses in contemporary moral problems, introduction to ethics, and introduction to bioethics, Biomedical Ethics is accessible to students who have little or no background in ethical theory, medicine, or biotechnology. (shrink)
In a recent set of papers, Aaron Spital has proposed conscription or routine recovery of cadaveric organs without consent as a way of ameliorating the severe shortage of organs for transplantation. Under the existing consent requirement, organs can be taken from the bodies of the deceased if they expressed a wish and intention to donate while alive. Organs may also be taken when families or other substitute decisionmakers decide on behalf of the deceased to allow organ procurement for the purpose (...) of transplantation. When patients or families do not consent to organ procurement, many transplantable organs are lost. This is a tragic yet avoidable situation. The dead are beyond any benefit or harm, and their organs could be used to prevent harm by saving and improving the lives of many people suffering and dying from end-stage organ failure. (shrink)
Neurostimulation to restore cognitive and physical functions is an innovative and promising technique for treating patients with severe brain injury that has resulted in a minimally conscious state (MCS). The technique may involve electrical stimulation of the central thalamus, which has extensive projections to the cerebral cortex. Yet it is unclear whether an improvement in neurological functions would result in a net benefit for these patients. Quality-of-life measurements would be necessary to determine whether any benefit of neurostimulation outweighed any harm (...) in their response to different degrees of cognitive and physical disability. These measures could also indicate whether the technique could be ethically justified and whether surrogates could give proxy consent to its use on brain-injured patients. (shrink)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other psychiatric disorders can interfere with a person’s capacity to control the nature of his mental states and how they issue in his decisions and actions. Insofar as this sort of control is identified with free will, and psychiatric disorders can impair this control, these disorders can impair free will. The will can be compromised by dysregulated neural networks that disable the mental mechanisms necessary to regulate thought, motivation, and action. Neural and mental dys-function result in (...) the maladaptive and pathological behaviors associated with these disorders. In “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Free Will, and Control,” Gerben Meynen (2012) rightly .. (shrink)
The neurological and psychological traits that regulate our thought and behavior fall along a spectrum that extends from the normal to the pathological, from traits that enable us to perform mental and physical functions to traits that interfere with these functions. Yet many people have a constellation of both normal and pathological mental traits. Some even have traits associated with exceptional intellectual or artistic ability despite being diagnosed as having a neurological or psychiatric disorder. These cases raise medical, ethical and (...) legal questions about which conditions should be diagnosed as mental disorders or pathologies, and whether it is always in one’s best interests to be treated for these conditions. (shrink)
Some cognitive neuroscientists and psychologists claim that our conscious mental states and actions can be explained entirely in terms of unconscious mechanical processes in the brain. This suggests that our belief in free will is an illusion and that we cannot be responsible for our actions. I argue that neuroscience as such does not threaten free and responsible agency. The real threat to free will is not normal brain function but brain dysfunction that impairs or undermines our capacity for agency.
In a recent article in this journal, we argued that living organ donation from a parent to a child should be described as a beneficent rather than an altruistic act. Emotional relationships can generate an obligation of beneficence to help those with whom we have these relationships. This may involve an obligation for a parent to donate an organ to a child, even though it entails some risk to the parent. The parent's donation is not altruistic because altruistic acts are (...) not obligatory but optional, and they are motivated solely or primarily by other-regarding concerns. In contrast, donor parents' other-regarding concerns are inseparable from their own self-regarding concerns. An individual who donates to a stranger is acting altruistically. She may choose to help others to whom she is not emotionally related for a variety of reasons—sympathy, compassion, generosity, or a desire to give something back to humanity. But she does not have an obligation to do so. Although she may benefit as a consequence of donating, this is not her reason for donating. Instead, her action is motivated by a concern for the recipient's own sake. This is what makes the donation altruistic, and it can be justified without any expectation of benefit to the donor. However, although the potential competent donor decides whether the donation is in her best interests, physicians have the right to refuse to perform a transplant if the risks to the donor are too great or the potential benefits to the recipient are too small. (shrink)
Psychopathy is a disorder involving personality and behavioral features associated with a high rate of violent aggression and recidivism. This paper explores potential psychopharmacological therapies to modulate dysfunctional neural pathways in psychopaths and reduce the incidence of their harmful behavior, as well as the ethical and legal implications of offering these therapies as an alternative to incarceration. It also considers whether forced psychopharmacological intervention in adults and children with psychopathic traits manifesting in violent behavior can be justified. More generally, the (...) paper addresses the question of how to weigh the psychopath’s presumptive right to non-interference in his brain and mind against the public interest in avoiding harm. (shrink)
In “Minds, Brains, and Norms,” Michael Pardo and Dennis Patterson claim that the idea that ‘you are your brain’ does not contribute to a plausible account of human behavior. I argue that they leave too little of the brain in their account of different types of behavior.
With the gap between the number of transplantable organs and the number of people needing transplants widening, many have argued for moving from an opt-in to an opt-out system of deceased organ donation. In the first system, individuals must register their willingness to become donors after they die. In the second system, it is assumed that individuals wish to become donors unless they have registered an objection to donation. Opting out has also been described as presumed consent. Spain has had (...) the most successful presumed consent policy, resulting in a substantial increase in the donation rate. 1 Despite support for an opt-out system from the British Medical Association and other groups since 1999, the report of a task force delivered in November 2008 recommended that the current opt-in system in the UK be retained. 2 The USA has also retained an opt-in system.3 Two prominent American bioethicists, Tom Beauchamp and James Childress, claim that an opt-out policy “would not likely be adopted in the United States, and if it were adopted, it probably would not increase the number of organs for transplantation because so many citizens would opt out.”4Offering financial incentives such as paying funeral expenses for a deceased donor’s family is one way of increasing the number of organs. A regulated market in organs is another.5 In the UK at least, there is broader support for presumed consent. Among the alternatives to opting in, this system has the best prospect of eventually being adopted. Presumed consent would not obviate but retain the basic idea of consent, because individuals would still have the right to opt out and choose not to donate. 6One argument for presumed consent is that it would reduce the incidence of free riding. For a free rider, it is not rational …. (shrink)