Medical Mindset, Social Conscience
The neurotechnology industry will likely encounter several areas where ethical considerations impact new technologies and therapies, as Warren Grill points out in his article on page 1 of this issue. The three real-world examples he cites, involving transformed mental states, enhanced human performance, and informed consent, are no doubt a small subset of the issues this industry may encounter in the years ahead.
But none of these should present a major roadblock to pursuing innovation with new neurotechnology devices and therapies. We believe this not because we choose to trivialize the significance of societal factors in medical technology, but rather, because we have always advocated for a medical community that assumes its proper role in society.
To be certain, clinicians, researchers, and healthcare firms should do all they can to inform patients and caregivers of issues that are relevant to potential therapies. In the case of neurotech devices, this may take the form of a discussion of risks and benefits of neurostimulation devices along with a shared decision-making process, as the American Pain Society advocates. It may also include increased patient control over stimulation parameters. Approaches such as this will not only lead to a more content user population less likely to be surprised by adverse events down the road, they will also help sell devices, since an informed user community will help grow clinician acceptance.
On the other hand, members of the healthcare community are as much a part of society as the patients they seek to serve. They have every right—and indeed a responsibility—to speak out when governments or other institutions pursue policies they believe are detrimental to society. When the previous administration pursued an ill-advised foreign policy that led to an influx of thousands of servicepeople with brain injuries and other disorders, it was right for us to say so. If the current administration continues with a mindless war on drugs that offers little therapeutic hope to those afflicted with addiction at the same time as it implements obtrusive invasions of civil liberties, then it is our time to speak.
Contrarians who believe neurotechnology is overstepping its bounds and acting too much like big brother are free to express that opinion. But we should invite them first to reclaim the constitutional freedoms we have already surrendered to the government without the aid of the medical industry. Every day in this country, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Transportation Security Administration do more to destroy privacy and individual freedom than any medical practitioner could do in Ralph Nader’s worst nightmare. Perhaps the most effective counterbalance to these concerns is for us to join our critics in the larger battle for liberty that is waging outside our laboratory doors.
Editor and Publisher