International Neuroethics Society 2012 Annual Meeting

Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D., is the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Bioethics and the director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University. He is also the program committee chair of the International Neuroethics Society.

It is my great pleasure to invite you to join us at the 2012 International Neuroethics Society (INS) Annual Meeting in New Orleans, October 11th and 12th, right before the Society for Neuroscience Meeting. The INS is a society dedicated to exploring the ethical, social, and legal implications of neurotechnology and clinical neuroscience. Our website can tell you more about the society, and about the agenda of our program and how to register.


As program chair, I am excited by the diversity and depth of our sessions. Nita Farahany, a professor at Duke Law School and a member of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, will give the keynote, “Me, Myself, and My Brain.” She artfully combines perspectives from law and philosophy to give a fresh perspective on some of the thornier issues of neuroscience and jurisprudence.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the seminal Penn/Greenwall workshop on neuroethics and the Stanford Mapping the Field Conference. As the field of neuroethics enters its adolescence, it struggles to define itself and understand its place in the broader field of neuroscience, as well as its place in ethics. INS President Steven Hyman of Harvard and the Broad Institute, will moderate a panel drawn from different fields, regions, and generations to engage in conversation about the past and future of neuroethics as a field of study. Martha Farah of the University of Pennsylvania, Eric Racine from McGill, Karen Rommelfanger from Emory, and Verity Brown of The University of St. Andrews will join the conversation.

In another panel, three leading neuroscientists will discuss addiction and neuroethics. Judy Illes from the University of British Columbia will moderate, with Charles O’Brien from the University of Pennsylvania focusing on prevention of relapse; Rita Goldstein from Brookhaven National Lab discussing stimulants to improve cognitive function in addicts; and Tony Phillips of the Canadian Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction talking about difficult public health policy challenges in Canada.

Fabrice Jotterand of UT Southwestern Medical Center will moderate a panel called “Altering Personhood,” which will investigate some of the philosophical, ethical, and clinical implications of interventions that alter personhood and/or personal identity, including psychotropic drugs and other neurotechnologies. Peter Rabins of Johns Hopkins will explore in what way personal identity can be altered, how this alteration can be conceptualized, steps that might be taken to restore it, and how this might differ from the concept of personhood. Agnieszka Marie Jaworska of the University of California Riverside will outline the concept of the capacity to care and its role in personhood. Peter Reiner from the University of British Columbia will discuss decisional enhancement in the context of addiction.

Perhaps most surprising, we have invited Steve Potter from Georgia Institute of Technology and Sandro Mussa-Ivaldi from Northwestern University, who have developed “brains in dishes.” While neuroethics focuses on putting things into brains–drugs, stimulators– less attention has been paid to taking neurons (or even whole brains) out of organisms to use as information processors. Using these living neural networks, neuroscientists have created simulated animals they call “animats” or “hybrots.” I will be on that panel to help explore the ethical issues around the use of living neural tissue as the processing components of computer chips, and animal brains kept alive in dishes for human purposes.

Registration for the meeting includes a poster session and reception on Thursday evening, and breakfast and lunch on Friday. There will be plenty of time for meeting colleagues and networking. Earlybird registration ends September 1st. Come, engage your mind in the thorny and important ethical challenges of neuroethics, and see what the International Neuroethics Society is all about.

–Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D.

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