Bioethics Blogs

Sitting Here in My Safe European Home: How Neuroscientific Research Can Help Shape EU Policy During the Syrian Refugee Crisis

By Joseph Wszalek, J.D. and Sara Heyn
Joseph Wszalek, J.D., is a fourth-year PhD student in the Neuroscience Training Program/Neuroscience and Public Policy Program at the University of Wisconsin. His research work focuses on the interaction between social cognition, language, and traumatic brain injury, with an emphasis on legal contexts. He holds a law degree cum laude and Order of the Coif from the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he was a US Department of Education Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow through the Center for European Studies and a member of the Wisconsin International Law Journal’s senior editorial board. 

Sara Heyn is currently a graduate student pursuing a J.D. along with a PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests include psychopathy, decision-making processes, and the use of neuroscientific evidence in the courtroom. 

Ethical guidelines are a fundamental aspect of the legal profession. The modern attorney serves three simultaneous ethical roles: he is an advocate for his clients, he is an officer of the legal system, and he is a public citizen with special responsibility for the rule of law (ABA Model Rules, 2014). These ethical obligations do not merely prohibit unacceptable conduct: they impose positive duties on licensed attorneys to actively promote and improve the administration of justice in all three capacities. In stark contrast to the legal profession, however, the ethical obligations of the scientific profession are considerably less well-defined. So-called research ethics are concerned more with establishing responsible research practices and less with encouraging active social duties. Put another way, while the modern scientist has an undeniable ethical obligation in his role as a member of the scientific community, it’s unclear whether or not this obligation extends to his role as a general citizen, and it’s unclear whether or not he, like his lawyer counterpart, has a “special responsibility” to actively improve society.

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.