Bioethics Blogs

Considering the Ethical Implications of Cognitive Enhancement

As part of the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, President Obama asked the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) to “identify proactively a set of core ethical standards – both to guide neuroscience research and to address some of the ethical dilemmas that may be raised by the application of neuroscience research findings.” As the Bioethics Commission resumes its consideration of these ethical issues, it turned this morning to the ethical implications of cognitive enhancement specifically.

The session featured Peter Reiner, V.M.D., Ph.D., from the University of British Columbia’s National Core for Neuroethics, Kinsmen Laboratory of Neurological Research, and Brain Research Centre; Rear Admiral Peter J. Delany, Ph.D., LCSW-C, Director of the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA); Adrian Raine, Ph.D., the Richard Perry University Professor of Criminology, Psychiatry, and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania; and Nick Bostrom, Ph.D. a professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Oxford and founding Director of the Future of Humanity Institute.

Starting off the conversation with a presentation titled, “Cognitive Enhancement Past, Present and Future,” Reiner discussed the definition of cognitive enhancement. In doing so, he explained both the historic understanding and looked forward to how this definition is evolving.

“Cognitive enhancement is more complicated than it seems at first blush,” explained Reiner. “We’re already well on our way to enhancing ourselves with all sorts of drugs, devices and more.”

“I’d submit as we move forward we need to give a fair hearing to the public’s enthusiasms and fears, their utilitarian dreams and their visions for societal harmony for these are the norms to which our policies should hew,” Reiner concluded.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.