The Problem with Neuroethics

After having had six classes surrounding different hot topics in the field of neuroethics, I’m a bit disturbed. My feelings are not the result of any one of the particular topics we have covered, though they are all worrisome. Instead I find myself upset by the fact that we’re having all these conversations concerning the ethics of medications and techniques that are already being used freely in our society. I find it really distressing that we, as neuroscientists, are arguing about the dangers of products being widely used and prescribed everyday, what’s the point? Even if we decided to take these technologies off the market tomorrow, the people who have already been exposed could potentially suffer the consequences.

For example, the long-term effects of Ritalin have not been extensively studied, and as we saw in the The Medicated Child these drugs can and do have lasting side effects in children. So why is it that we start arguing about whether this is ethical AFTER we’ve already sentenced children to live for the rest of their lives with permanent ticks? It drives me insane! Why is it so hard to do enough testing to determine long-term effects of the drug before we start prescribing it all willy-nilly?

Similarly, the drug propranolol, has been okay-ed for off label use, which means the drug can be prescribed for conditions other than what it’s traditionally used to treat. This means that the issue of memory-dampening is very much a real thing. Yet, we know very little about how this drug will affect the brain and memories of the people it’s prescribed to for this purpose.

Guaranteed, there are some ethical issues that come from use of a product that we could not have foreseen. But honestly, how hard is it to look at a new product and ask, how reliable is this new technique? Should we be using it for these purposes (like with polygraph tests)? Or how likely is this drug to be abused by patients (like with Adderall)? Or what are the long-term effects of this drug (like with Ritalin)? Shouldn’t we, as a scientific community, come together as new technologies are created to discuss the possible ethical issues and how to deal with them BEFORE they become problems for our patients? Be a little proactive people!

2 thoughts on “The Problem with Neuroethics

  1. I’ve been feeling the same way Mariah, Its definitely alarming. Maybe it has something to do with increasing technologies and society becoming more aware in general and that is part of what is stirring up the conversation around these medications, treatments and techniques? I dont know, but i definitely agree!


  2. Hooray! Totally agree with you. I have stood back and watched the effects on both adults and children who have been prescribed these medications far too easily. It is disturbing and I’m so pleased that people are finally starting to ask the questions.


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