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date: 17 April 2021

(p. xiii) Preface

(p. xiii) Preface

It is with great excitement that we present the Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics, a compendium of chapters presenting key issues, complementary discussion, and critical debate at the intersection of brain and ethics.

The contributors to the volume join us from around the world and a broad range of sectors of academia and clinical practice spanning the neurosciences, medical sciences, the social sciences and humanities, and law. We are privileged to have engaged authors who wrote for one of the first books on neuroethics (Neuroethics: Defining the Issues in Theory, Practice and Policy, edited by J. Illes, 2006) and are well established in the field, in addition to many new contributors. Some are seasoned thinkers in neuroethics; others are newcomers to the field exploring, for the first time, the uncharted terrain and discovering its riches.

We have clinicians who think about ethics daily in their Western practices. Some of them, and others, are taking that thinking outside familiar urban borders, testing and endeavoring to make the world a better place by reducing the burden of suffering from neurologic and psychiatric disease in rural and developing regions of the world, and placing authenticity, consciousness, accountability, sustainability in the forefront of research, care and education. We may call this a movement toward global health neuroethics, drawing upon “… human rights as a key value, [and] global health ethics… [a] moral guidance for world health systems and governance.” (Velji and Bryant, Understanding Global Health, 2007 International Health).

Certain authors use functional magnetic resonance imaging hands-on to understand how the human mind works, and others use meta-analyses of those data to expound on the implications of such neurotechnology. We have contributors who believe that enhancing cognition pharmacologically with brain devices is an important goal to improve cognition, functional outcome and well-being for children and adults with neuropsychiatric disorders and brain injury. Other contributors believe this goal should not be limited to those suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders or brain injury, but should be considered a natural phenomenon arising from human curiosity and the pursuit of personal betterment. Yet other authors argue fiercely against this position, concerned that the very nature of the human condition, defined by naturalness and authenticity, is at stake.

One author considers gender in the full range of concerns for brain research, healthcare, law, and education. Others look to the future of neurotechnology, genetics, and stem cells. Many tackle the challenges of the aging brain, predictive testing, and still limited therapeutic remedies to the relentless decline associated with dementia. Some promote imaging as a means of understanding of states of consciousness in the brain injured; others share or are even more cautious about what this wave of new research will bring and critical ethical challenges whether it proves to be viable or not. Needless to say, the importance of communication and outreach is a common theme throughout.

Quoting George Khushf in this volume, the importance of the unfettered activity in neuroethics is: “[t]o move ethics upstream… to be located at the place where the research first arises, and it needs to uncover the possibilities inherent within that research… to cultivate responsible research practices that are proactively responsive to broader ramifications (p. xiv) of the practices.” More than 90 international authors and co-authors have joined together with us and our assistant editors Carole Federico and Dr. Sharon Morein-Zamir, to promote this goal.

No doubt, we have not covered all topics or involved all possible contributors in this volume. Neuroethics is growing so rapidly that it would be impossible to do so. In fact, by way of this Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics, we hope to promote this growth and pave the way for other major texts for the field like this one. As Editors, we also do not necessarily agree with all views expressed by contributors. All, however, provide material for stimulating discussion and debate.

With this volume, we hope to reach young neuroscientists as we urge them to consider the research they do within an ethical context. We hope that students reading the Handbook will be inspired to take on leading roles in the rapidly developing field of neuroethics. We also hope to engage the public in active discussion about research findings and the impact discoveries about the brain may have on the lives of individuals and the fabric of society.

Overall, we trust that this Handbook will expand the knowledge base of its readers, as it has for us as Editors, and successfully share our commitment to ethics and neuroscience that is unwavering and profound.

Judy Illes and Barbara J. Sahakian