Bioethics Blogs

Direct-to-Consumer Neurotechnology: Ethical Applications Today and Tomorrow

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) heard this morning from a panel of experts representing the neurotechnology sector and regulatory agencies on the ethical considerations in direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales of neurotechnologies. The Bioethics Commission is reviewing the ethical issues associated with the application of neuroscience research in response to President Obama’s request as part of the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative.

Starting off the conversation, John Reppas, M.D., Ph.D., the Director of Public Policy at the Neurotechnology Industry Organization, discussed the current state of the DTC neurotechnology market. Breaking direct-to-consumer neurotechnologies into two categories, Reppas discussed technologies that measure data and have back-end technologies to analyze data, as well as devices that send artificially generated signals into the brain or body.

“Measurement devices are considered quite safe,” said Reppas. “For this product class, the major real-world concern would center on data privacy and ownership, as well as how that data ends up being presented back to the consumer,” said Reppas.

For products that aim to change ongoing brain function to produce specific behaviors, like relaxation or more efficient learning, Reppas said that “the ethical imperative is to make sure that these products don’t have unanticipated long-term effects on user behavior or health.”

On the question of how these technologies should be regulated, Reppas argued that the neurotechnology sector has been safe and use of these technologies often changes once they’ve reached the market.

Carlos Peña, Ph.D., M.S., the Director of the Division of Neurological and Physical Medicine Devices in the Office of Device Evaluation at the Center for Devices and Radiological Health in the U.S.

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.