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The Ethics of Brain-Computer Interfaces

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The development of computational systems known as brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) offers the possibility of allowing individuals disabled by neurological disorders such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and ischemic stroke the ability to perform relatively complex tasks such as communicating with

The development of computational systems known as brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) offers the possibility of allowing individuals disabled by neurological disorders such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and ischemic stroke the ability to perform relatively complex tasks such as communicating with others and walking. BCIs are closed-loop systems that record physiological signals from the brain and translate those signals into commands that control an external device such as a wheelchair or a robotic exoskeleton. Despite the potential for BCIs to vastly improve the lives of almost one billion people, one question arises: Just because we can use brain-computer interfaces, should we? The human brain is an embodiment of the mind, which is largely seen to determine a person's identity, so a number of ethical and philosophical concerns emerge over current and future uses of BCIs. These concerns include privacy, informed consent, autonomy, identity, enhancement, and justice. In this thesis, I focus on three of these issues: privacy, informed consent, and autonomy. The ultimate purpose of brain-computer interfaces is to provide patients with a greater degree of autonomy; thus, many of the ethical issues associated with BCIs are intertwined with autonomy. Currently, brain-computer interfaces exist mainly in the domain of medicine and medical research, but recently companies have started commercializing BCIs and providing them at affordable prices. These consumer-grade BCIs are primarily for non-medical purposes, and so they are beyond the scope of medicine. As BCIs become more widespread in the near future, it is crucial for interdisciplinary teams of ethicists, philosophers, engineers, and physicians to collaborate to address these ethical concerns now before BCIs become more commonplace.

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2016-05

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The Ethics of Human Memory Augmentation

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Memory augmentation will play a vital role in the development of our future. The predicted introduction of downloadable brains will be the first of many neurocognitive technologies that will alter our lives at both the societal and individual levels. These

Memory augmentation will play a vital role in the development of our future. The predicted introduction of downloadable brains will be the first of many neurocognitive technologies that will alter our lives at both the societal and individual levels. These technologies can affect everything from educational institutions to the judicial system, meanwhile raising issues such as autonomy, human psychology, and selfhood. Because of its tremendous potential, memory augmentation and its implications should thoroughly be examined.

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2013-05

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Whistleblowing in Biomedical Research and Medicine: An Analysis of Ethical Expectations and Dilemmas

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In biomedical research institutions and medical institutions alike, whistleblowing, or the reporting of misconduct, has been severely retaliated against. Whistleblowers report misconduct by adhering to institutional whistleblowing policies, and do so in order to maintain ethical practice within their institution;

In biomedical research institutions and medical institutions alike, whistleblowing, or the reporting of misconduct, has been severely retaliated against. Whistleblowers report misconduct by adhering to institutional whistleblowing policies, and do so in order to maintain ethical practice within their institution; it is important to note that by taking this ethical action, whistleblowers are aiming to protect the future of biomedical research and medicine. Despite these intentions, whistleblowing has developed a negative stigma due to the misconception that whistleblowers have self-proclaimed authority and are unable to function as part of a team. The retaliation against whistleblowers has been connected to psychological and professional fallout for the whistleblower, and it has been found that many whistleblowers suffer as a direct result of a lack of institutional support. The problems with whistleblowing culture demonstrate issues surrounding how ethics are maintained in institutions, who ethics policies apply to, and who has authority. The retaliation seen against whistleblowers outlines inherent institutional failures, and highlights the need for institutional change in order to both promote ethical practice and protect the whistleblowers who adhere to ethics policies. This thesis discusses such failures in detail, and outlines several broad solutions in order to combat this issue.

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2019-05

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Enhancement, commodification, and human flourishing, or, The reason why human enhancement is wrong is because it leads to people being treated like pots

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At present, the ideological bias in the human enhancement debate holds that opponents to human enhancement are primarily techno-conservatives who, lacking any reasonable, systematic account of why we ought to be so opposed, simply resort to a sort of fear-mongering

At present, the ideological bias in the human enhancement debate holds that opponents to human enhancement are primarily techno-conservatives who, lacking any reasonable, systematic account of why we ought to be so opposed, simply resort to a sort of fear-mongering and anti-meliorism. This dissertation means to counteract said bias by offering just such an account. Offered herein is a heuristic explanation of how, given a thorough understanding of enhancement both as a technology and as an attitude, we can predict a likely future of rampant commodification and dehumanization of man, and a veritable assault on human flourishing.

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2012

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The Theory, Practice, and Future of Ethics Education in Science

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The landscape of science education is changing. Scientific research and the academy are both becoming increasingly complex, competitive, interdisciplinary, and international. Many federal research agencies, scientific professional societies, and science educators seem to agree on the importance of strong ethics

The landscape of science education is changing. Scientific research and the academy are both becoming increasingly complex, competitive, interdisciplinary, and international. Many federal research agencies, scientific professional societies, and science educators seem to agree on the importance of strong ethics education to help young scientists navigate this increasingly craggy terrain. But, what actually should be done? When it comes to teaching ethics to future scientists, is the apparent current emphasis on basic responsible conduct of research (RCR) sufficient, or should moral theory also be taught in science ethics education? In this thesis I try engage this question by focusing on an existing, related debate on whether moral theory should be part of teaching professional ethics more generally. After delving into the respective approaches promoted by the three primary participants in this debate (C. E. Harris, Bernard Gert, and Michael Davis) I unpack their views in order to ascertain their practical application potential and relative benefits. I then take these findings and apply them to ethics education in science, paying particular attention to its purported learning objectives. In the end I conclude that the presentation of these objectives suggests that moral theory may well be required in order for these objectives of ethics education in science to be fully achieved.

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2014

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Promises, expectations, and obligations : an examination of American Indian health outcomes

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American Indian literature is replete with language that refers to broken or hollow promises the US government has made to American Indians, one of the most prominent being that the US government has not kept its promises regarding health services

American Indian literature is replete with language that refers to broken or hollow promises the US government has made to American Indians, one of the most prominent being that the US government has not kept its promises regarding health services for American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/AN). Some commenters refer to treaties between tribes and the US government as the origin of the promise for health services to AI/AN. Others point to the trust relationship between the sovereign nations of American Indian tribes and the US government, while still others assert that the Snyder Act of 1921 or the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA) contained the promise for health care. While the US has provided some form of health care for AI/AN since the country was in its infancy, and continues to do so through the Indian Health Service, the promise of health services for AI/AN is not explicit.

Philosophers have articulated that a promise contains a moral obligation to fulfill it because of others’ expectations created by that promise. As the US government made its first promises in early treaties with AI/AN tribes and subsequently made promises in the years since, it is morally obligated to fulfill those promises, be they lying promises or not, because of resulting expectations. Yet, the US government has historically acted to restrict the rights of AI/AN—rights that include access to health services—through assimilation, separation, or termination policies. Further, the policies of the US government have kept the AI/AN populations socioeconomically impoverished, dependent on the US government for basic needs, and susceptible to health-compromising conditions.

Using case studies, this dissertation looks not only at the policies and events that directly affected health services and health status, but also at how those policies and events contributed to health outcomes and the expectations of AI/AN. Given the history of the US government in fulfilling (or not fulfilling) its promises, this dissertation examines the expectations of AI/AN for their own future health outcomes under the policy of self-governance.

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2016