Brain–computer Interface - Ethical Considerations

Ethical Considerations

There has not been a vigorous debate about the ethical implications of BCIs, even though there are several commercially available systems such as brain pacemakers used to treat neurological conditions, and could theoretically be used to modify other behaviours.

Important topics in the neuroethical debate are:

  • obtaining informed consent from people who have difficulty communicating,
  • risk/benefit analysis,
  • shared responsibility of BCI teams (e.g. how to ensure that responsible group decisions can be made),
  • the consequences of BCI technology for the quality of life of patients and their families,
  • side-effects (e.g. neurofeedback of sensorimotor rhythm training is reported to affect sleep quality),
  • personal responsibility and its possible constraints (e.g. who is responsible for erroneous actions with a neuroprosthesis),
  • issues concerning personality and personhood and its possible alteration,
  • therapeutic applications and their possible exceedance,
  • questions of research ethics that arise when progressing from animal experimentation to application in human subjects,
  • mind-reading and privacy,
  • mind-control,
  • use of the technology in advanced interrogation techniques by governmental authorities,
  • selective enhancement and social stratification, and
  • communication to the media.

Emory University neuroscience professor Michael Crutcher has expressed concern about BCIs, specifically ear and eye implants: "If only the rich can afford it, it puts everyone else at a disadvantage." Clausen concluded in 2009 that “BCIs pose ethical challenges, but these are conceptually similar to those that bioethicists have addressed for other realms of therapy”. Moreover, he suggests that bioethics is well-prepared to deal with the issues that arise with BCI technologies. Haselager and colleagues pointed out that expectations of BCI efficacy and value play a great role in ethical analysis and the way BCI scientists should approach media. Furthermore, standard protocols can be implemented to ensure ethically sound informed-consent procedures with locked-in patients.

Researchers are well aware that sound ethical guidelines, appropriately moderated enthusiasm in media coverage and education about BCI systems will be of utmost importance for the societal acceptance of this technology. Thus, recently more effort is made inside the BCI community to create consensus on ethical guidelines for BCI research, development and dissemination.

Read more about this topic:  Brain–computer Interface

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