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Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine
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Person and Neuroethics

Person and neuroethics are core topics of both philosophical and psychological research. At present, characteristics and features of personality and the person are primarily discussed within these disciplines.

The criteria that can be used to determine personal identity over time have already been analysed in detail and have been subjected to various thought experiments. This means that they can contribute to better understanding the change over time in important aspects of persons better and to more adequately respond through medical means to certain changes. The project will focus on linking categories of these disciplines to possible subjects of investigation within neuroscientific research. A particular focus of neuroscientific research is imaging of anatomical and functional systems that currently show very little correlation to the psychological and/or philosophical categories for person and personality. However, among the areas of "Executive Functions", "Change in Perspective and Social Cognition", "Perception and Attention" and "Emotions" investigated in fMRI studies, there are points of contact between the conceptual and categorical systems of the neurosciences, psychology and the philosophy of the person. In the project, further correlations between psychological and philosophical categories and neuroscientific research will be sought and, where necessary, an attempt will be undertaken to create them.

The project will undertake to determine the characteristics and capabilities attributed to persons with certain disease presentations or participating in neuroscientific research projects and what changes in these attributions should be anticipated as a result of options for technical intervention provided by neuroscientific practice.

In so doing, the question also arises as to what characteristics and capabilities of persons should be considered to have such special moral status that they may not be altered or only limited changes may be made.

It is particularly important to investigate these aspects when bioindicators are to be linked with behaviour or if the diagnosis of a pathology is not clear cut.

A central moral characteristic of persons is their capacity for autonomy. When dealing with persons in their role as patients and volunteers in medical and scientific contexts, this is embodied in the principle of autonomous consent. The principle of autonomous patient decision-making considers the definitive authority for issues associated with participating in research and undergoing treatment to be the patient's express declaration of intention. It is considered to be an expression of the inalienable right to free self-determination, referring to the diversity of personal life plans and the associated desire to participate in studies or undergo treatment. Thus, physicians or researchers are particularly obliged to adequately inform patients, in order to ensure that they can make their voluntary decision in a well-informed manner. However, researchers and medical personnel do not have the right to ignore this decision based on their own assessment of the situation or even to coerce the patient into making the decision.

This principle experiences particular difficulties whenever there are doubts as to the extent to which the person has been informed or with respect to his or her decision-making capacity, for instance, in the case of psychiatric disorders or neurological deficits. This work package examines how the principle of informed consent can be realized in the area of psychiatric and neurological disorders. The project aims to systematically shed light on the interplay of the three common forms of consent – assent, proxy consent and living will – against the backdrop of the complex of problems outlined above and current debate, specifically in the area of neurological and psychiatric disorders. The normative core aspects of the three forms are to be explored, their references to external moral issues examined and their reciprocal interrelations specifically identified with respect to possible cases of conflict. This should lead to the creation of a clearly structured and well-founded classification scheme of possibilities and forms of relations of transtemporal self-determination in the area of dementia disorders.


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