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EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2006

Session VI

From genethics to neuroethics?

'Genethics' refers to a sub-field of applied ethics concerned with the social, ethical and policy issues associated with the use of genetic and genomic knowledge and technology. A number of bioethicists have in turn started using the term 'neuroethics', to designate an area of attention to the possible benefits and dangers of modern research on the brain. While new knowledge coming out of the neurosciences has an enormous potential for beneficial applications in divers fields, treating or manipulating the mind will also have important social, legal and bioethical implications. Will advances in the neurosciences change our ideas about morality, responsibility and the law? A sociological account of the neurosciences would focus both on the neurosciences and the emerging neuroethics, as well as the relationship between the two. Most briefly stated, the neurosciences should benefit from being examined and studied from multiple perspectives. And neuroscientists can serve as privileged guides in the inquiry to help identify and focus on specific priority areas in which attention is most needed.

The aim of this session is to assess the anticipated social and cultural impact of our new genetic and neurobiological knowledge regarding the determinants of behaviours, the nature of consciousness and the sense of self. We would like to pursue the questions that are likely to arise when scientific findings about the brain are put to use in society, for instance in legal interpretations (brain reading) and in biomedical practice (scanning technologies). Such applications are expected to grow monumentally as the neurosciences are now making discoveries about the brain at an incredible pace. How can, and how should society incorporate this new knowledge?