EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2006
Raymond G. De Vries, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
Raymond G. De Vries
Dr. Raymond G. De Vries is a member of the Bioethics Program, the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the Department of Medical Education at the Medical School, University of Michigan. He is the author of A Pleasing Birth: Midwifery and Maternity Care in the Netherlands (Temple University Press, 2005), and co-editor of The View from Here: Bioethics and the Social Sciences (Blackwell, 2007).
His current research is focused on the regulation of science; clinical trials of genetic therapies and deep brain stimulation; international research ethics; and the social, ethical, and policy issues associated with voluntary cesarean section.
Firing the Neuroethical Imagination
What is it that fires the neuroethical imagination? In my presentation I consider the obvious and less obvious answers to this question. The standard answer is that neuroethics is driven by a desire to weigh the unprecedented questions that arise together with new ways of imaging, measuring, and altering the brain; but this is not the entire story of this new branch of ethics. Neuroethicists are also animated by psychological and social forces. On the psychological side, the neuroethical imagination is animated by a tension between technophilia and technophobia, between admiration for Jekyll and fear of Hyde.
How has this philia-phobia tension shaped this new field? In the social realm, neuroethicists are in the business of creating boundaries and staking a claim to a piece of the academic landscape. In this case it involves a small band using the tools of bioethics to colonize a new area of science. What are the consequences of a separate and distinct field of neuroethics? Like its parent discipline, neuroethics works on the premise of a need for an ethical specialist to oversee the work of scientists and researchers. As such, neuroethics represents a shift in the moral landscape of biomedicine from virtue ethics, where a researcher's actions were governed by her character, to regulatory ethics, where professional ethicists are called on to assess and direct the behavior of clinicians and researchers. I conclude by reviewing the contributions of neuroethics and asking: should the neuroethical imagination be fired?