Ethics in the life sciences: debating neuro-enhancement

Ciência Viva and IBMC final NERRI event took place 25 February at Pavilhão do Conhecimento, Lisbon. 25 students from Cidadela high school, in Cascais, spent an afternoon discussing neuro-enhancement and preparing questions to ask in a multidisciplinary public debate on the ethics of neuro-enhancement.

The workshop started with briefs by Teresa Summavielle (IBMC-i3S, Porto), on the biomedical aspects of neuro-enhancement, and by Sheena Laursen and Peter Eduard (Experimentarium, Copenhagen), who shared the results of their mutual learning exercises with Danish high school students.

The students were then confronted with props – mock drugs and electronic devices used for cognitive improvement, herbal teas, smart drinks and nutritional supplements, gym equipment, bed pillows and vouchers for mindfulness mediation – with basic information about their neuro-enhancement potential, warnings, possible side effects and limitations. Each student picked up one item and discussed it in small groups, leading to a group statement and question about neuro-enhancement. The issues and questions thus raised were discussed in a plenary session; some of them were selected to be video recorded for the debate at night.



The students came up with the following questions:

  • Will neuro-enhancement just improve us, or will it give rise to different versions of ourselves?
  • If there are anti-doping committees in sports, should there also be anti-doping committees in any intellectual activity of competitive nature (e.g., school, exams)?
  • What happens to meritocracy in a society where the brain can be enhanced? Does NE change the nature of personal worth?
  • Should NE be made public, i.e., available for everyone? What requirements or qualifications should one fulfil to be able to use NE?
  • Should there be some sort of public database or catalogue of NE users?




Later in the day, Ciência Viva and the National Commission for Ethics of the Life Sciences organized a debate on the ethics of neuro-enhancement, with presentations by a philosopher, a psychiatrist and a neuroscientist, and the video with the questions was used to start the 1h30 discussion with the public. The session is available here (in Portuguese).