Our research project will have significant implications for biomedical policy and practice. These include:

I. Cognitive enhancement.

There is a heated ongoing debate about cognitive enhancement at the policy level in Europe and US. The British Medical Association has issued a discussion paper on cognitive enhancement (BMA, 2007), to which Sandberg and Bostrom contributed, and the government’s forthcoming Foresight Report on ‘Mental Capital and Wellbeing’ (Sahakian is on its Science Co-ordination Team) will consider related issues.

Resources Include: 

Policy Paper: The Regulation of Cognitive Enhancement Devices (Working Draft- do not cite)

Since the Oxford Martin School commissioned the paper, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics have outlined reasons for adopting a model broadly similar to the model we propose. This underscores the need for detailed proposals such as ours, which make and defend specific suggestions for how the existing legislation should be amended 

II. Borderline consciousness and neurological impairment.

Some of the most heated moral and legal disputes involve brain damaged patients (Quinlan, Bland, Schiavo), and scientific research and ethical argument are needed to clarify these debates. Our account of the criteria for the presence of different types of consciousness and of their value will be of direct relevance, extendable to severe neurological impairment and potentially to abortion (when does the foetus first develop consciousness?) and animal rights (which animals have consciousness in the morally relevant sense?).

III. Free will and addiction.

Addiction presents considerable problems for policy and medical practice, as recognized for example by the government’s Foresight Report on ‘Brain Science, Addiction and Drugs’ (2005). Our research will make significant conceptual and ethical contributions. We will consider whether addicted people are autonomous and capable of informed consent, and assess the ethical implications of manipulations of self-control. We shall develop criteria for criminal responsibility in pathologies of volition and explore ways in which agents, normal and pathological, can enhance self-control. This will be of great legal significance.


IV. Neuroscience of moral judgment and decision-making.

Our research will influence the practice of biomedical ethics, both through its critical assessment of the methodology of bioethics in light of neuroscience and by identifying biases in decision-making. It will also have implications for the understanding of informed consent, given evidence that decision-making may be biased or irrational even when relevant information is available. We will explore the possibility that some policies embody heuristics which are being misapplied, and present proposals for replacing these heuristics with sounder guidelines. As we address the research questions, we shall form corresponding policy recommendations and discussion papers (see timetable) and respond to government inquiries.