2017 Annual Meeting
Washington, DC, USA
November 9-10

Meeting Location

AAAS Building
1200 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20005

image of AAAS building from New York Ave NW

Honoring our History, Forging our Future

The 2017 Annual Meeting of the International Neuroethics Society will gather a diverse group of scholars, scientists, clinicians, and professionals dedicated to the responsible use of advances in brain science. Join old friends and new colleagues for an intellectually stimulating and dynamic conference that pays homage to the first 15 years of neuroethics and highlights critical topics that will shape its future.

Plenary Lectures

Rémi Quirion

Douglas Mental Health University Institute

Arthur Caplan

New York University Langone Medical Center

  • Practical and Ethical Considerations in Consciousness Restoration – What does it mean to be conscious? Arthur Caplan explored this question and how the answers may impact research and medicine in his plenary lecture on “Neuromodulation of the Dead, Persistent Vegetative State, and Minimally Conscious.” – Tabitha Moses
Karola Kreitmair

Stanford University

Patricia Churchland

University of California, San Diego, Emeritus

Panels & Discussions

Tali Sharot, Alan Leshner, Joseph J. Fins and Ed Yong

Science communication panelists Tali Sharot, Alan Leshner, Joseph J. Fins and Ed Yong

Neuroscience, Communication, and Public Engagement

Advances in brain research provide a rich resource for the media. What are the opportunities for scientists to communicate with the public? And what responsibilities do experts have to get their message across in a meaningful way?

International Ambassador Session

This session highlighted both the swelling global investment in neuroscience research and the internationally perceived need for ethical deliberation over its social and legal significance and potential for clinical implementation. European, American, and Asian representatives discussed the ethical challenges introduced by their respective nations’ research and their prioritization of a cogent and complementary ethical response to neuroscience discoveries.

Elizabeth Loftus, Charles Dike and Victoria Talwar

Public program panelists Elizabeth Loftus, Charles Dike and Victoria Talwar

To Tell the Truth!

A panel discussion organized in collaboration with the INS, the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The Brain in Context

This panel discussion provided a multidisciplinary view of the challenges we face today in understanding the context of lived experiences and how our brains impact our environment. Exploring the heart of the context in which our brains develop and grow may help us to reduce stigma by increasing our understanding of how the environment impacts our brains.

Legal Responsibility, Agency, and Addiction Neuroethics: Reconciling Frameworks for Policymaking

This panel discussed the implications of defining addiction as a brain disease within the framework of capacity and responsibility. While many have supported the classification of addiction as a brain disease, speakers contend that we must continue to question how successful this has been in mitigating the detrimental effects of addiction.

Ethics of Neuroscience and Neurotechnology
Andreas Kuersten presenting

Andreas Kuersten presenting at the thematic panel on Neuroscience of the Law

Neuroscience of the Law

The use of neuroscientific evidence in the courtroom has significantly increased throughout the past decade. This panel discussed when and how this evidence is used, how judges can change sentencing decisions in addiction cases, and the way that cognitive neuroscience is being used to argue the Constitutionality of using a conducted electrical weapon during arrest.

Research / Recognitions

Meeting Program

Session Summaries

Steven E. Hyman Award 2017 – William Safire

This is an annual award that the INS Board of Directors initiated last year honoring Steve Hyman for his own outstanding service to neuroethics, from his earliest thinking and initiatives beginning in 2000, accepting the inaugural presidency in 2006, and for allowing us to grow organically while providing the kind of unfailing and strong leadership that has brought us to where we are today. Steve, thank you.

William Safire photo

Today, we are pleased to award the prize posthumously to William Safire. Mr. Safire, born in 1929, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist for The New York Times, a speechwriter for President Richard M. Nixon, and an author of novels and books on politics. He died in 2009 aged 79.

Significantly for us, William Safire was also the chairman of the Dana Foundation from 2000 until he died.

We honor him for his extraordinary vision and determination to establish the field of neuroethics. In fact, he is widely credited for the word, ‘neuroethics’ in its modern use, and it is largely because of his vision that we are here today.

The roots of neuroethics began to grow in 2002 when he convened the first symposium on "the examination of what is right and wrong, good and bad, about the treatment of, perfection of, or unwelcome invasion of, and worrisome manipulation of the human brain."

At this first gathering in San Francisco, more than 150 neuroscientists, bioethicists, psychiatrists, psychologists, philosopher, lawyers and public policy makers met to discuss ‘Neuroethics: Mapping the Field.’ The goal of the conference—organized by Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco, and underwritten by the Dana Foundation—was to project the boundaries, define the issues, and raise the initial questions appropriate to a field that probes the ethical implications of advances in brain sciences.

Hyman award photo

INS President Judy Illes and INS Past President Steve Hyman (far left and near left) pictured with Barbara Gill and Ed Rover (near right and far right) of The Dana Foundation.

At the time, William Safire wrote, “The power to examine and manipulate the brain offers the potential to change lives in profound and personal ways. As this potential becomes an ever-present reality, how will we make wise decisions about its use?” As true now as it was then.

At this INS Annual Meeting where the theme is ‘Honoring our History, Forging our Future,’ I believe he would be proud of how far we have come.

Therefore we proudly present the Steven E. Hyman Award for Distinguished Service to the Field of Neuroethics to William Safire.

Ed Rover Chairman of the Dana Board and Barbara Gill, Executive Director of The Dana Foundation will accept the award.

By Judy Illes

The Brain in Context

The panel began with Martha Farah speaking about her new research on socioeconomic status and the brain. She contends that the brain is not limited to our physical bodies and that it is impacted by our social environments.

Specifically, she focused her attention on socioeconomic status and how it affects everything from life expectancy, education, and income—all of which are inherently connected to the context and environment in which our brains develop. In this way, Farah explained, the brain is a causal pathway to myriad outcomes. The brain is usually talked about in a descriptive and mechanistic way, but this conception of context may be unhelpful for future study. Although there aren’t unique implications now, moving towards a more illustrative and actionable understanding of the brain in context is adding to the weight of evidence suggesting that environment—such as socioeconomic status—has profound affects on our brains. Thus, neuroethics and neuroscience policy is relevant precisely because it increases the weight of evidence.

The second panelist, Moriah Thomason, built upon this discussion and defined the first context of our brain—the womb. Her research centers around prenatal programming of human fetal brain development and has found that alterations in brain development in utero has significant cognitive affects. The brain in utero is essentially in a state of becoming and sets the stage for our future abilities even before we take our first breaths outside of the womb. For instance, a mother experiencing high levels of stress appears to imprint or program that experience on the fetal brain, which affects the functional connectivity in the fetal brain prior to birth. Her “Prenatal Imaging of Neural Connectivity (PINC)” study has found that the prenatal stress score—including depression, perceived stress, satisfaction with life, and anxiety—is correlated to fetal brain connectivity in at least three of the eight highly-connected areas in the cerebellum.

The final presentation by Herve Chneiweiss moved the discussion from the womb to the context of our increasing use of technology, particularly the use of phone, television, and tablet screens. In this context, neuro-education has evolved from 2-dimensional to 5-dimensional, but now we are moving back to 2D screens. While learning, the social context is perhaps the most important, yet, our increasing reliance on screens as an educational tool may hinder our ability to learn how to interact with others in our physical environment. Moreover, Chneiweiss explained, there is a correlation between excessive screen time with the development of psychiatric disorders, lack of sleep, and impaired cognition. The democratization of screens has also created two new kinds of pathology: nomophobia (no phone) and fomo (the fear of missing out). While these are a bit tongue-in-cheek, they highlight real problems that can significantly affect our brains ability to learn and interact with others in our social environments. In particular, the development of the ability to self-regulate screen time is of the upmost importance. We must educate children on how their brain works and how screens affect their brain function.

By Sarah Denton, George Mason University

International Roots of Future Neuroethics

Karen Rommelfanger, Jinni Jeong and Caroline Montojo

Karen Rommelfanger, Jinni Jeong and Caroline Montojo.

The reappearance in 2017 of INS' Ambassador Session underlines both the rapid upswing of global investment in neuroscience and the internationally perceived need for ethical deliberation about its interpretive significance, distinctive cultural manifestations, and evolution of complementary policy and juridical structures that best serve global versus regional interests. This year’s session juxtaposed the more mature organizational approaches of the American and European neuroethical programs against recent undertakings in Asia, a comparison that helped to clarify how neuroethics progress is conditioned by local neuroscience research priorities and how more established programs assist in cross-cultural transmission to shape budding, national efforts.

In this vein, panel moderator Karen Rommelfanger and co-moderator Ariel Coscio summarized this year’s theme on common roots and future collaboration in a chart relating national neuroscience priorities to their respective neuroethics postures. Emphasizing that it takes the world to understand the brain, Rommelfanger proposed that formulating an international neuroethics outlook necessitates a complementary and culturally shaped, global contribution.

Representing the Human Brain Project, Arleen Salles argued that a fundamental prerequisite for such efforts was a philosophical reflection for charting the neuroethical terrain normatively, empirically, and conceptually. Salles’ articulation of a philosophical neuroethical model illustrates how the neuroethical response in Europe is conditioned by the HBP’s more ontologically-based strategy of determining how the nervous system underwrites human behavior. By contrast, Khara Ramos of the Multi Council Working Group at NIH (USA) summarized the more focused risk–benefits tack taken there in the monitoring of RO1 neuroscience and neuroethics grants that are concerned with NIH’s circuit-based approach to disease and the BRAIN Initiative’s prioritization of neurotechnology development. In its pursuit of a more pragmatic American approach to the cellular and circuit building blocks of brain operation, Ramos pointed out that ethical priorities were necessarily less concerned with the interpretive aspects of the human dimension due to the close link of ethics with the pragmatic neuroscientific research strategy taken in the U.S. 

Arleen Salles and Ariel Cascio
Karen Rommelfanger, Jinni Jeong, Caroline Montojo and Khara Ramos

Top: Arleen Salles and Ariel Cascio; Bottom: Karen Rommelfanger, Jinni Jeong, Caroline Montojo and Khara Ramos.

Jinni Jeong of the Korean Brain Initiative described South Korea’s new evolving neuroethical effort as one not only subject to influences of American and European programs, but also as a reaction to the nations’ limited scientific infrastructure now attempting to expand its manpower of scientific experts. Despite the nation's neuroscientific emphasis on such practical domains of research as mapping and connectivity architectures, like the Americas, Jeong pointed out that neuroethics in South Korea nonetheless also emphasizes the human interpretive concerns, seen in its prioritization of brain enhancement and brain death issues.

Lastly, describing The Kavli Foundation’s mission as the world-wide dissemination of science theory and practice and development of a public understanding of this effort, Caroline Montojo offered a model for mediation between the old and the new through idea and personnel exchange. How such dissemination will help to grow international complementarity and responsive neuroethics remains a task in waiting.

By Denis Larrivee

Practical and Ethical Considerations in Consciousness Restoration

We do not have a good way to measure consciousness, argues Arthur Caplan in his plenary lecture on “Neuromodulation of the Dead, Persistent Vegetative State, and Minimally Conscious,” contending that until we can understand both the science and the ethics of this problem, we should not move forward with conscious altering technologies such as deep brain stimulation (DBS).

Recent research aims to bring consciousness back to those who were once viewed as brain-dead. Currently, these technologies do not restore one’s former self, rather, they transition the patient into a minimally conscious state such that they are aware of their functional losses. Caplan provides the example of Guillaume T (GT), who was recently brought out of a 20-year vegetative state through vagus nerve stimulation. Despite the headlines, it was not the medical miracle most assumed. After his procedure, GT was minimally conscious and able only to move his eyes on command and lift his head; he died two weeks later. For Caplan, this is one of the most egregious things to have happen in the history of research.

Caplan then addressed consent and the virtual inability of an unconscious subject to provide consent. Furthermore, without clear definitions and measurements of consciousness, what would it take for families to truly provide informed consent? A family told that their loved one may regain consciousness is likely to imagine a far different type of consciousness than the minimally conscious state the researcher may be expecting.

Moving forward with these technologies will require important practical and ethical considerations, Caplan stresses minimally conscious patients will need complete, full-time care, with an extremely high emotional and financial burden to both patient and family.

Caplan also stated that our understanding of personhood and identity will need to change. Currently, a human subject participating in research is a living person. If we are to include those declared brain dead in research with the intent of reviving their consciousness, then we need to consider how this impacts our understanding of a human subject. Moreover, by altering the brain in such a significant manner, we must consider the potential destruction of personhood. These problems, amongst others, need to be considered far more carefully before we move forward with consciousness research.

By Tabitha Moses, Wayne State University School of Medicine

A Brain-Based Framing of Addiction: Moral, Legal, And Ethical Implications

Is addiction a brain disease or not a brain disease? While this dichotomous choice may seem like an innocuous distinction, many have argued for the replacement of the term addiction altogether. Hans-Ulrich Wittchen, a clinical psychologist, began the session by introducing a new paradigm in which we need to: 1) focus on the harm addiction causes, 2) revitalize the diagnostic terms, and 3) replace the current “static” diagnosis with a more “dynamic concept.”

Addiction is much more than a brain disease; it is chronic and relapsing. Working off of this assumption, Adrian Carter analyzed some possible ethical and policy implications of a brain-based framing of addiction. While this classification could increase acceptance and empowerment, and research funding, it could also have many unintended consequences. For example, it could imply that addiction is incurable, uncontrollable, and allow for an increased use of coercion in rehabilitation. “We don’t have to accept that addiction is best thought of as a chronic brain disease,” Carter concluded. 

Rachel Wurzman observed that it may be entirely unnecessary to make this brain-based distinction if only we can expand our concept of disease. Addiction should be viewed as a disease of social systems that acts through neurobiological substrates in the reward system. While social connection and support could buffer against this pathology, mass incarceration leading to social isolation is perpetuating the cycle of addiction.

Although community-based programs that focus on social connections may be useful alternatives to traditional punitive sentences, Stephen Morse explains how criminal law still views addicts as responsible for their conduct. While an addict may be acting irrationally at the moment of drug use, diachronous responsibility explains that they are still criminally responsible because of their failure to take the necessary actions to avoid that behavior before it occurred.

Despite the lack of an uncontroversial definition of disease and addiction, the panelists were in general agreement on ways in which we can mitigate the damage of addiction. Society should be focused on providing better access to drug-free treatments, not only for the public at large, but also for incarcerated individuals.

By Sara Heyn, University of Wisconsin–Madison

This concurrent panel session, moderated by Molly Crockett, featured a provocative discussion of numerous ways in which neuroscience research has intersected with the legal system and how these intersections are becoming increasingly common. Representatives from academia and the legal system specifically examined the prevalence of neuroscientific evidence in the courtroom, how it can affect magistrate decision-making, and whether it can aid Constitutional arguments.

It is often useful to first view this field from afar and study the global impact of brain science in the courtroom. Attorney Jason Kerkmans discussed a comparative study of U.S. and Netherland criminal courts. Despite major differences in criminal procedures, both systems show marked increases in the use of neuroscience evidence. This increase in prevalence internationally emphasizes the continued need for the “protection of good neuroscience in the courtroom.”

In these cases where neuroscientific evidence is being used, we can then ask how the evidence can change court outcomes. Nicholas Sinclair-House highlights one of the few studies that has investigated how actual magistrate judges apply neuroscientific evidence in their sentencing decisions in the context of addiction. Interestingly, although judges have agreed that addiction is a disease, they do not treat it as such in practice. They show significantly more leniency to individuals with a made-up disease—“Woznicki’s disease,” for example—that caused prefrontal abnormalities and poor impulse control than when these same brain abnormalities were caused by addiction. “Addiction is in fact sweeter by a different name,” Sinclair-House concluded.

Andreas Kuersten takes a different approach and explores whether brain-based evidence can support a defendant’s claim that their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination is violated following the use of a conducted electrical weapon. If a defendant is taken into custody using a taser and subsequently waives their rights following a Miranda warning, could that waiver be deemed involuntary due to taser-induced cognitive decline?

Although there is no consensus on these Constitutional questions, the panelists seemed to be optimistic about the potential benefits of this type of evidence while continuing to emphasize the need for continued research and discussion.

By Sara Heyn, University of Wisconsin–Madison