Prof. Dr. Jens Clausen
Field of Research
Intervening the human brain is held to be especially problematic from an ethical perspective because the brain is the biological basis for central aspects of being human including consciousness, self-consciousness, the ability for morality and speech as well as decision-making capacity. Brain interventions might change some of these key-characteristics and thereby affect the entire person. The aim of my research is to analyze the ethical impact of different interventions into the human brain with a special focus on new and emerging technologies like brain-machine and brain-computer interfaces, brain stimulation and cell transplantation. Ethical implications of these neurotechnologies are examined on at least three levels: the level of research and development of these devices, the level of established clinical applications and the level of potential use of these technologies beyond the realm of therapy.
Research and the development of new technologies for generating knowledge as well as for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes, need special attention. Since in the respective experiments participants and patients are the means they need special protection. Several guidelines regulate how to conduct ethically justifiable human subject research. With respect to new and emerging technologies research ethics needs to make the rather general guidelines more specific in order to assure medical progress without putting participants and patients to disproportionate risk.
However, established therapies also need ethical consideration, for instance deep brain stimulation; although a powerful and approved tool for treating motor disorders like Parkinson’s, essential tremor and Dystonia, it deserves attention from an ethical perspective. It is not just the common calculation of risks and side effects with benefits. Furthermore questions arise such as: how to deal with thr desperation of patients in advanced stages of the disease where alternative treatments have already failed? How does an intervention affect the patient’s autonomy, if at all? It is not uncommon for medical parameters such as motor scores, activities in daily living and health related quality of life to improve, but the patient nevertheless is not satisfied with the outcome of the intervention. How to deal with this paradox of discontent?
Neuroethics Beyond the Realm of Therapy
Although developed for the treatment of neurological or psychiatric disorders, some substances are held to improve cognitive functions or emotional states. This neuroenhancement – whether real or fictional – raises challenging philosophical and anthropological questions such as “What kind of people do we want to be? Is the desire for enhancement technologies a response to social expectations of improved performance? Do we expect ourselves and/or others to be 24/7 performers, to provide 24 hours a day, 7 days a week non-stop high performance? The answers to these questions seem to depend on our concepts of being human and of a meaningful life.
Clausen J. (2011), Conceptual and ethical issues with brain-hardware devices. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 24(6), 495-501.
Clausen J. (2011), Establishing Regenerative Medicine for the Human Brain: Intracerebral Cell Transplantation in the Perspective of Research Ethics. In: H. Fangerau & T. Trapp (Eds.), Implanted Minds - The Neuroethics of Intracerebral Stem Cell Transplantation and Deep Brain Stimulation. Bielefeld: transcript, 91-106.
Clausen J. (2010), Ethical brain stimulation – neuroethics of deep brain stimulation in research and clinical practice. European Journal of Neuroscience, 32(7), 1152-1162.
Clausen J. (2009), Man, machine and in between. Nature, 457(7233), 1080-1081.
Clausen J. (2008), Moving minds: ethical aspects of neural motor prostheses. Biotechnology Journal, 3(12), 1493-1501.