Bioethics Blogs

Bioethics Commission Deliberates Consent Capacity

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) is devoting the majority of today’s public meeting in Salt Lake City to discussing potential neuroscience-related recommendations that it could offer to President Obama.

This morning, Bioethics Commission Chair Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., noted that three areas have emerged throughout the public meetings at which the Bioethics Commission has discussed ethical issues related to neuroscience. They are cognitive enhancement, consent capacity, and law and neuroscience. A list of Commission meetings relevant to neuroscience can be found here on

After spending the second half its morning discussing cognitive enhancement, the Bioethics Commission moved on to discuss consent capacity, specifically research with participants whose capacity is potentially diminished or absent. Many of the conditions that neuroscientists study can affect a person’s capacity to consent to research.

“To generate knowledge about and treatments for these conditions, affected individuals must be included in research – critically, with ethical safeguards in place,” said James W. Wagner, Ph.D., Bioethics Commission Vice Chair. “Several ethical considerations arise. For example, how do we ensure adequate protections for research participants with impaired capacity? What procedures should be in place to assess consent capacity? And how might we address stigma associated with impaired consent capacity?” Wagner asked.

Wagner asked Commission Members Daniel P. Sulmasy, M.D., Ph.D., FACP, and Christine Grady, R.N., Ph.D, to help frame the discussion.

Sulmasy suggested that the Bioethics Commission consider diminished capacity not only in the research setting but in the clinical setting as well. He noted that research on clinical capacity is largely based on clinical exams of patients.

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.