Scholars Seek Ethics of Neuroscience

Roman University Hosts Seminar

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By Mirko Testa

ROME, OCT. 8, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Research seeking to uncover the secrets of the brain can have positive or negative effects on the protection of human dignity.

Elements of that research and its applications to human subjects was the theme of a conference held last month at Rome's Regina Apostolorum university. The conference on "Consciousness and the Dignity of the Person" was sponsored by the Science, Technology and Ontological Quest (STOQ) project and the John Templeton Foundation.

It was their first seminar on the theme of neurobioethics and aimed to gather a forum of professionals and scholars from various areas, to come up with a truly multi-disciplinary approach to ethical questions of neuroscience.

Doctor Adriana Gini, a neuro-radiologist and the director of the St. Camillus-Forlanini Hospital, considered the origin of the term neurobioethics and what it entails.

Doctor Paola Ciadamidaro, an anesthetist and a director at the Christ the King Hospital in Rome, addressed complications in defining consciousness.

Considering the various degrees of consciousness or lack of it (for example in what is called coma or the vegetative state), Ciadamidaro contended that the key is approaching patients with a correct mentality.

She encouraged a "holistic-rehabilitative" mentality, "based on a double rejection: therapeutic aggression and abandonment of care."
 
Researcher Andrea Soddu of the Coma Science Group of the Belgian University of Liege reflected on advances in technology that enable better information on brain activity.

In regard to patients in the so-called vegetative state, Soddu contended that as many as a third are given "inappropriate or erroneous diagnosis."

She affirmed that patients in this state should be offered "the possibility of communicating through an interface brain-computer that does not require any motor [activity]."

Legionary of Christ Father Jesús Villagrasa, a member of the neurobioethics group at Regina Apostolorum university, addressed philosophical considerations.

"The person who loses consciousness, even if it is in a presumably definitive way, does not lose his intrinsic dignity, or the human rights that belong to him naturally," he explained.

The priest critiqued the separatist theory, which divides human being-ness from personhood.

"The philosophical root of the separatist thesis is functionalism, which defines the person by functions and not by his/her nature," Father Villagrasa pointed out.
 
Against this line of thought, the scholar posited personalism founded ontologically, which expresses the concept of "person" with the classic definition of Boethius: individual substance of rational nature.