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This research programme will investigate the ethical issues arising in neuroscience and the implications of developments in neuroscience research for thinking about ethics. Some of the most important of these issues arise out of the ways in which brain research is entangled with fundamental mechanisms of mind, self-understanding, autonomy and decision-making: all of which are of moral significance. Developments in neuroscience challenge what is it to be human and worthy of respect and/or blame and have important implications for understandings of what it is to be human, to be authentic, to be rational. When combined with behavioural genetics they raise important questions about autonomy, best interest, the moral value of humans, human-like, and post-human beings and human-like creatures.

Novel neurotechnologies such as deep brain stimulation (DBS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) raise new ethical issues for participants and carers because they by-pass reasoning processes to work directly on the brain. At the same time, however, there is emerging evidence from neuroscience that ‘standard’ psychological interventions such as CBT can themselves have long-term impacts on the brain suggesting that the ethical distinction between invasive and non-invasive may need to be reconsidered. Advances in neuroscience such as DBS, tDCS, brain surgery, neural stem cell therapies, and genome editing also raise important challenges to conceptions of the distinction between ‘treatments’ and ‘enhancements’ and about the concept of the ‘natural’. These innovations challenge concepts of nature, their value and what it is to be ‘neurotypical’ and raise important questions about equity and justice.

Neuroscience and the uses of neuroimaging data raise important concerns about privacy, justice and social control. Neuroimaging has the potential to be used in a range of different settings outside of medicine, each presenting important ethical questions. These include: military, recreational, and commercial uses. Such technologies also have the potential to play important roles in crime prevention, particularly in relation to uses in neuro/bio prediction. Key privacy concerns arise out of imaging and privacy of thoughts, with potential threats to personal volition, and erosion of self-determination. Imaging and decision-making and data sharing

Projects within this theme

Research Team

Julian Savulescu

Centre Co-Director

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Ilina Singh

Centre Co-Director

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Mackenzie Graham

Senior Research Fellow in Imaging and Data Ethics

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