Ethical challenges raised

Rapid advances in neuroscience are transforming our understanding of human cognition and behaviour. The secrets of our brains are being unlocked and many of these discoveries present ethical challenges for society.

Sophisticated imaging methods, brain-based technologies and drug development are provoking questions around cognitive enhancement, criminal behaviour and human rights. Neurobiological profiling could lead to unintended consequences, and how interventions to ameliorate cognitive decline and diminished brain health are being examined.

Our Neuroethics program explores the social, ethical, legal and policy implications raised through our growing knowledge of the brain. By doing so, we hope to translate our brain research into effective and ethical interventions, treatments and policies.

Australian Neuroethics Network

The Australian Neuroethics Network is an interdisciplinary collaboration that brings together leading Australian practitioners in neuroscience, law, ethics, philosophy, policy-making, clinical practice, patient populations, the public and other end-users to examine the ethical and social implications of neuroscience research.

We host interdisciplinary workshops and events that produce outcomes such as recommendations, guidelines and policy briefs for government, regulators and business.

Through conference presentations, the media and online communications, we are improving awareness of neuroethical issues associated with recent advances in brain research. Read more about the Australian Neuroethics Network.

Neuroethics Program Coordinator – Dr Adrian Carter

adrianDr Adrian Carter is a neuroscientist and ethicist conducting interdisciplinary research on the impact of neuroscience on our understanding and treatment of addictive behaviours.

Besides directing the Centre’s Neuroethics Program, Dr Carter leads the Neuroethics and Public Policy group at the Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences. This group examines the implications of neuroscience research on free will, identity, and moral responsibility; drug use and self-efficacy (people’s belief in their ability to control their drug use and their motivation to enter treatment); stigma and discrimination; coercion; and the use of emerging technologies, such as brain stimulation and brain imaging, to treat addiction.

Dr Carter has been an advisor to the World Health Organization, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the Australian Ministerial Council on Drugs Strategy and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and is a member of the International Neuroethics Society’s Response Action Task Force.

He is an ARC DECRA Fellow, and deputy chair of executive committee of the Australian Academy of Science Early and Mid Career Researcher Forum.

Dr Carter’s book Addiction Neuroethics: The Promises and Perils of Neuroscience Research on Addiction is available in paper or hardback from Cambridge University Press, and for Amazon kindle.

He also co-ordinates the Australian Neuroethics Network, which can be contacted on Twitter: @NeuroethicsAU

The Ethics of Neuroscience, a mini documentary featuring Dr Carter and produced by Monash University, examines the fundamental questions being raised by our growing understanding of the human brain.

New technologies are allowing us to have control over the human brain like never before. As we push the possibilities we must ask ourselves, what is neuroscience today and how far is too far?

The world’s best neurosurgeons can now provide treatments for things that were previously untreatable, such as Parkinson’s and clinical depression. Many patients are cured, while others develop side effects such as erratic behaviour and changes in their personality.

Not only do we have greater understanding of clinical psychology, forensic psychology and criminal psychology, we also have more control. Professional athletes and gamers are now using this technology – some of it untested – to improve performance. However, with these amazing possibilities come great ethical concerns.

This manipulation of the brain has far-reaching effects, impacting the law, marketing, health industries and beyond. We need to investigate the capabilities of neuroscience and ask the ethical questions that will determine how far we can push the science of mind and behaviour.