The ethics of altering your children’s brains.

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience is asking the tough questions about what… and when… we should be doing to kids’ brains with electromagnetism:

As the intervention moves away from being a treatment toward being an enhancement—and thus toward a more uncertain weighing of the benefits, risks, and costs—considerations of the child’s best interests (as judged by the parents) diminish, and the need to protect the child’s (future) autonomy looms larger. NIBS [(Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation)] for enhancement involving trade-offs should therefore be delayed, if possible, until the child reaches a state of maturity and can make an informed, personal decision. NIBS for treatment, by contrast, is permissible insofar as it can be shown to be at least as safe and effective as currently approved treatments, which are themselves justified on a best interests standard.

To frame our discussion, we draw a distinction between the use of NIBS… as a form of treatment for a recognized neurological disorder, and its use as a form of enhancement in healthy children. Although we have argued in previous work that the treatment/enhancement distinction tends to break down in the case of adults (see Earp et al., 2014), in the case of children, we suggest, it has greater normative force.

Others have argued that enhancement technologies would not undermine autonomy, insofar as they increase the options available in an individual’s choice set. For example, Bostrom (2005) claims that an enhanced child might “enjoy significantly more choice and autonomy in her life, if the modifications were such as to expand her basic capability set. Being healthy, smarter, having a wide range of talents, or possessing greater powers of self-control are blessings that tend to open more life paths than they block” (p. 212). Such an analysis tends to assume that enhancement has the overall effect of increasing objective opportunities, even if a child might experience her freedom as being constrained by parental expectations. However, as we will now discuss, in the case of brain stimulation, the assumption of “more choice” may sometimes be mistaken.

If your mom and dad made you better at solving puzzles or less subject to mood swings against your will, is that an infringement of your rights?

Tricky question.

[via Madrigal]

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply