Good and evil in the practice of neuroscience

ABC Radio’s The Philosopher’s Zone had an edition last week on ‘neuroethics’ – the branch of moral philosophy that deals with the difficult issues raised by our increasing ability to manipulate the brain.

For example, a lab at Georgia Tech have created The Hybrot, a robot controlled by the brain cells of a rat.

Some might question whether it is ethical to use sentient creatures for parts in mechanical devices.

If you have no ethical qualms about this, what about using human brain cells to do the job, donated by a card-carrying organ donor after an irreversible coma?

Perhaps it would make a difference what the device was, so a medical device to help someone move again might be acceptable, but an intelligent house-cleaning robot might seem too trivial to make human brain cells an acceptable component.

The Philosopher’s Zone examines neuroethics as a new discipline that aims to make sense of similarly taxing situations, often faced by clinicians and scientists in their day-to-day work.

If you’re interested in hearing more, Dana hosted a public panel discussion on these issues last year, and have put the video online.

Link to The Philosopher’s Zone on neuroethics.
Link to Dana panel discussion on neuroethics.

2 thoughts on “Good and evil in the practice of neuroscience”

  1. My first reaction on hearing about the Hybrot is quite simple: “Freakin’ cool! Can I put a special note about that on my organ donor card?” I mean, if there’s enough of me left in those cells that one might feel morally troubled about having it operate a vacuum cleaner, that vacuum cleaner will just want to read a book anyway, and the floor will never get cleaned. Trust me on this. You can call any of my old college roommates if you want confirmation. My mother, too.

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