Neuroethics: Characteristics and Development

Discover what neuroethics is, its bases and its main branches of study. Also the reasons why this discipline has a huge projection of the future.

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Neuroethics is a discipline that has made its way into the international scientific community due to the large number of studies and research on the brain in recent years.

However, one can speak of it as a discipline with its own entity since 2002, when a group of specialists from different areas and fields met to study the ethical and social implications of brain research, since classical bioethics was considered too much. generic

In 2003, a conference on neuroethics was organized for the first time by the Society for Neuroscience. But until 2006 the Neuroethics Society was not established, a group of professionals dedicated to the interest of the social, legal, political and ethical repercussions related to the advances of the neurosciences.

As we see, the development of this discipline is relatively recent, but it does not stop being curious and interesting. Next, we will take a tour of neuroethics from its origins to its current situation to get to know it in greater depth.

Appearance of neuroethics

To understand the emergence of neuroethics as a science we must take into account the interdisciplinarity present in the neurosciences, since it arose due to the large number of different disciplines that studied the nervous system.

Over time, the need for an understanding between these disciplines was growing, accompanied in turn by concern about common ethical issues. Therefore, the classic questions linked to the functioning of the nervous system and to the mind-brain relationships had a lot to do with it.

To all this we must add the great advance, in a short time, of bioethics. A branch of science oriented, above all, towards the ethical aspects related to the life sciences, such as biology or medicine. This was a motivational boost for neuroscientists, since they did not want to be left behind.

On the other hand, the parallel progression of neuroscience itself had as a consequence that the lines of scientific research moved to issues more related to the inner aspect of the human being. For example, their pathologies or their cognitive and emotional functions.

Therefore, little by little the need for a discipline that was concerned with establishing the adequate precepts to coordinate research in these fields was created. And that’s how neuroethics came about.

San Francisco meeting in 2002

The Universities of Standford and California organized a meeting in San Francisco (California) in 2002 that marked the birth of neuroethics as a scientific discipline. It was in a congress attended by about 150 neuroscientists and in which the foundations of this discipline were laid.

In this meeting, the specialists had to reach an agreement on its definition and field of study. The result was the following definition:

“The study of the ethical, legal and social issues that arise when scientific findings about the brain are taken to medical practice, legal interpretations and health or social policies. These findings are occurring in fields ranging from genetics or brain imaging to the diagnosis and prediction of diseases. Neuroethics should examine how doctors, judges and lawyers, executives of insurance companies and politicians, as well as society in general, deal with all these results.”

However, although neuroethics was taking its first steps, there were still many aspects to be defined and defined; as the fact that practically the whole approach of the discipline was almost exclusively related to diseases of the nervous system.

In addition, another of the problems was the scant attention paid to prevention and the functional aspect of the nervous system, to the clear detriment of sciences such as psychology. As we can see, there is still a long way to go to get a broader and more synthesizing vision of this discipline.

Characteristics and development of neuroethics

The development of neuroethics and its characteristics is a reflection of the evolution of four major areas of work:

  • Neural science and the self: deals with issues such as the relationship of neuroscience with human freedom and responsibility. In addition, he studies the biological basis of personality, behavior and emotions.
  • Neural science and social practices: in this case, research is focused on social pathologies, also dealing with learning and memory processes, as well as issues related to personal and criminal responsibility, which leads him to touch on some aspects of forensic neuropsychiatry.
  • Ethics and practice of neurosciences: concerns about the ethics applied to clinical practice, covering aspects such as neurosurgery, psychotropic drugs, gene therapy, neural prostheses, etc. In addition, it tries to guide both the research and the therapeutic approach to nerve pathologies.
  • Neuroscience and public discourse: refers to the relationships of the neurosciences with the academic training of researchers, as well as aspects related to disclosure, without forgetting the relationship with social media.

Therefore, neuroethics is defined as a young multidisciplinary science, with a great projection and long-term established work objectives. It is, and will be, a fertile field of investigation. After all, it’s about the most purely human.