Dr. Gabriel Lázaro Munoz is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry (Harvard), and member of the Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School. He will be presenting his research at a forthcoming conference organized by Neuroethics Buenos Aires. What are his thoughts about the development of neuroethics? Read below
a- Does neuroethics attract the attention of doctors, psychologists, neuroscientists and philosophers?
I think so. Neuroethics is a relatively new field, born as a response to neuroscience's advances during the 1990's and early 2000s. However, it has made use of methods and approaches typical of other, more established areas of research such as philosophy, law and the social sciences, in order to examine the implications of novel insights about the brain, of new tools to study and modulate its activity, and of a greater understanding of how human behavior and diverse disorders originate in the brain. Because of the key role that the brain plays in human behaviour, neuroethics is very relevant to medical practitioners, psychologists, neuroscientists, legal experts and philosophers. To the extent that As people involved in these disciplines see how neuroethics contributes or integrates study methods that have their origins in these disciplines, we have seen more and more interest in neuroethics. My research integrates people with very diverse academic and professional backgrounds such as philosophy, law, neuroscience, neurosurgery, neurology, psychology, psychiatry, genetics, anthropology and sociology.
b. Are there neuroethics research programs at US institutions dedicated to neuroscientific research?
In the last 5 years we have seen a growth in research programs dedicated to neuroethics in American institutions. This growth is largely due to more people seeing the importance of examining the ethical and social implications of scientific developments about the brain, but also because government organizations such as the BRAIN Initiative, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation in the United States have begun giving research funds for neuroethics. These funds have allowed the creation of interdisciplinary research teams to examine neuroethical problems by combining different perspectives and the opportunity to obtain data on the perspectives of researchers and people who participate in studies examining new neurotechnologies, among others.
c. In your experience, is there interest and/or concern in the general public about neuroethical issues?
Yes, there is both interest and concern, but this depends on how much the public knows about developments in neuroscience. One of the things that has caught the public's attention recently is the development of neurotechnologies that can be implanted in the brain. Some companies like Elon Musk's Neuralink are not only developing products with the purpose of treating neurological or psychiatric conditions, but also of using these neurotechnologies to facilitate daily tasks such as typing on our smartphones or computers using brain activity. In this way, companies like Neuralink seek to expand their market and appeal to the general public. The reactions of the public are varied but many times there is interest in using these technologies and at the same time concern about the idea that the device would be implanted in the brain, about the safety of the device in terms of health, about how brain stimulation could somehow modify the person and how the privacy of the information that these devices can obtain would be managed. All these are issues addressed by neuroethics and as more neurotechnologies become part of our lives, the relevance of this field increases.