On March 26 the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) released the second volume of its two-volume report on neuroscience and ethics, Gray Matters: Topics at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society (Gray Matters, Vol. 2). In Gray Matters, Vol. 2, the Bioethics Commission recognized the challenging tension between the need for rigorous research on debilitating neurological diseases and psychiatric conditions, and the need to protect research participants who might be vulnerable because of impaired consent capacity.
To make discoveries about the brain and related neurological disorders that will benefit society, neuroscientists need to conduct research. Well-established ethical guidelines generally require that participants give their fully informed consent before enrolling in research. This might not be possible, however, if an individual cannot give consent because of an impaired capacity to do so. In such cases, U.S. regulations allow a legally authorized representative (LAR) to give permission for participation.
In Gray Matters, Vol. 2the Bioethics Commission makes four recommendations regarding research involving human participants whose consent capacity might be absent, impaired, fluctuating, or in question. In its sixth recommendation, the Bioethics Commission called for the responsible inclusion of participants with impaired consent capacity. Specifically the Commission recommended that:
Researchers should responsibly include individuals with impaired consent capacity who stand to benefit from neuroscience research. Participation, with ethical safeguards in place, can ensure progress aimed at understanding and ameliorating neurological disorders and psychiatric conditions.
The Bioethics Commission acknowledged the need for additional safeguards to ensure that participants with impaired consent capacity are adequately protected.
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.