Neurointerventions in Crime Prevention
PI: Dr Thomas Douglas
Wellcome Trust 100705/Z/12/Z
See grant outputs on Europe PMC.
Interventions that act directly on the brain, or ‘neurointerventions’, are increasingly being used or advocated for crime prevention. For instance, drugs that attenuate sexual desire are sometimes used to prevent recidivism in sex offenders, while drug-based treatments for substance abuse have been used to reduce addiction-related offending. Recent scientific developments suggest that the range of neurointerventions capable of preventing criminal offending may eventually expand to include, for example, drugs capable of reducing aggression or enhancing empathy.
In this Wellcome Trust-funded project, we are investigating ethical questions raised by the use of such interventions to prevent criminal offending, focusing particularly on cases where they are imposed on convicted offenders as part of a criminal sentence or as a condition of parole. On the one hand, there seems to be at least some reason to support the use of neurointerventions in this way, since there is a clear need for new means of preventing crime. Traditional means of crime prevention, such as incarceration, are frequently ineffective and can have serious negative side-effects; neurointervention may increasingly seem, and sometimes be, a more effective and humane alternative. On the other hand, neurointerventions can be highly intrusive and may threaten fundamental human values, such as bodily integrity and freedom of thought. In addition, humanity has a track record of misguided and unwarrantedly coercive use of psychosurgery and other neurotechnological 'solutions' to criminality.
We are deploying philosophical methods and recent thinking on autonomy, coercion, mental integrity and moral liability to answer two over-arching questions:
- When, if ever, may the state force neurointerventions on criminal offenders?
- When, if ever, may the state offer neurointerventions to criminal offenders?
We plan also to examine how our answers to these questions bear on the use of neurointerventions to prevent offending in individuals who have not previously offended, but are thought to be at high risk of doing so. This project is led by Dr Thomas Douglas, and is assisted by Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Jonathan Pugh.
Project website: https://ebip-oxford.org/
Julian Savulescu’s Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award: Individual Responsibility and Healthcare.
Wellcome Trust 104848/Z/14/Z
This project addresses questions such as: What is moral responsibility and does it matter in healthcare? Should treatment decisions and the allocation of resources take into account whether patients are responsible for their condition? Is it the physician’s role to encourage patients to take responsibility for their health? Does addiction undermine responsibility?
See Hot Topics section for resources, podcasts etc, and Europe PMC for open access papers.
The Ethics of Novel Therapeutic Applications of Deep Brain Stimulation
PI: Dr Jonathan Pugh
Wellcome Trust 203195/Z/16/Z
See grant outputs on EuropePMC.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a neurosurgical procedure that has been used to ameliorate motor symptoms associated with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Following its success in this regard, DBS has been increasingly considered as a treatment for psychiatric disorders including obsessive-compulsive-disorder,depression, anorexia nervosa, schizophrenia, and addiction. As well as promising beneficial treatment outcomes, the use of DBS in psychiatry might also provide researchers with insights into the neurological mechanisms underlying psychiatric disorders. Although this is an important development, the use of DBS in psychiatry raises ethical issues that are distinct from those raised by its use in the treatment of non-psychiatric neurological conditions, due to the diminished decision-making competence amongst many psychiatric patients, and the effects that psychiatric disorders often have on the patient’s self-conception and values, effects that DBS may exacerbate. The disturbing historical abuses of neurosurgery in psychiatry also suggest that it is imperative to develop adequate ethical guidelines for the use of DBS in this context.
In this Wellcome Trust funded project, I aim to provide a comprehensive study of the ethics of novel therapeutic applications of DBS, and to develop policy recommendations and ethical guidelines for its use. I seek to address the ethical issues alluded to above by focusing on questions pertaining to the following interrelated four core themes:
Authenticity and Personal Identity
The Significance Of Consent and Weighing Risks
The Research Ethics Paradigm
Distributive Justice and Resource Allocation
Rational Decisions: the Ethics of Rationing in Newborn Intensive Care
PI: Professor Dominic Wilkinson
Wellcome Trust 106587/Z/14/Z
See grant outputs in Europe PMC.
I will examine the controversial questions that arise in the care of seriously ill infants whose lives might be saved, but only at great expense. Public health systems can’t provide every treatment that parents might want for their child and I will ask if there is a way to fairly decide which infants should be treated.
I will draw on both medical ethics and medical science and address questions that doctors in newborn intensive care units (NICU) face regularly, such as how expensive is too expensive, how effective does a treatment need to be to justify the cost of treatment, should intensive care treatment be assessed on the same basis as new medicines, and how society should deal with conflicts between parents and doctors about providing treatment.
The project will aim to help NICU doctors think clearly about the ethical questions involved in rationing treatment, both in wealthy countries and low-income countries. It will provide guidelines for policies relating to costly treatment and for people who have to make these decisions.
The Ethics of Genome Editing in Livestock
PI: Dr Katrien Devolder
Wellcome Trust 208189/Z/17/Z
Genome editing in livestock (GEL) could potentially be used to mitigate urgent global problems of infectious disease, antimicrobial resistance, global warming, and animal suffering while also increasing agricultural productivity. Despite its imminence and potentially transformative potential, there has been minimal ethical debate about GEL. This project will provide the first in-depth philosophical analysis of GEL, focussing on four questions on which such research is most urgently needed: (1) How far do ethical concerns raised in relation to conventional genetic engineering using previous techniques carry over to GEL? (2) Are the arguments in favour of GEL best understood in terms of cost-benefit analysis, an obligation to 'arm ourselves for the future' or an obligation to correct past complicity in unethical agricultural practices? (3) How should duties to animals be understood in the context of GEL, and what is the relative importance of welfare, respect, and avoidance of commodification? (4) Would application of GEL to improve human and animal welfare entail complicity in maintaining unethical agricultural practices and if so, how could this complicity be reduced or offset? I will then investigate how my findings bear on how GEL should be regulated, and on related areas of public policy.