A recent special issue of the American Journal of Bioethics –  Neuroscience offers analyses of different ethical issues raised by research on consciousness. Contributions from international scholars in the field address challenges ranging from moral interpretations, technological manipulations, artificial replications, pharmacological alternations and the potential to attribute consciousness to engineered brain cells.

The issue is edited by Michele Farisco, philosopher and neuroethicist from Uppsala University’s Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics. According to him, one of the main challenges of contemporary science of consciousness is the lack of a shared theoretical framework. “This is challenging, because the interpretation of data is not uniform and eventually results in researchers using different conceptual models”, says Michele Farisco.

The fact that we are missing a shared theoretical view on consciousness brings with it some challenges. According to Michele Farisco, we need to develop effective strategies for dealing with the ethical issues that emerge. His own contribution, a guest editorial on the ethical spectrum of consciousness, presents a five-point plan for topics that needs exploring: 1) Consciousness and moral status; 2) the ethics of technologically extended consciousness; 3) the ethics of potential artificial consciousness; 4) the ethics of potential conscious cerebral organoids; and the ethics of altered states of consciousness, focusing on the case of psychedelics. This corresponds to five target articles, written by international scholars with different cultural backgrounds. The articles have sparked significant interest, reflected in the number and the quality of the Open Peer Commentaries.

“This special issue aims at setting the stage for a wide-encompassing ethical analysis of consciousness that provides a picture. Which, even if still incomplete, is sufficiently informative to advance in the exploration of the ethical spectrum of consciousness”, says Michele Farisco.

The special issue of AJOB Neurocience Volume 14, Issue 2 (2023) includes target articles by Elisabeth Hildt, covering the prospects of artificial consciousness; Spyridon Orestis Palermos, on data, metadata, and mental data, focusing on privacy and the extended mind; Andrew PetersonEmily A. LargentHolly Fernandez LynchJason Karlawish & Dominic Sisti, covering the ethics of psychedelic medicine and research for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias; Joshua Shepherd on non-human moral status and the problems with phenomenal consciousness, and Federico Zilio & Andrea Lavazza on regulating possibly sentient human cerebral organoids.

Eye, photo by Swapnil Potdar on Unsplash
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