Vignette 3: Brain Tissue Consciousness

J Med Ethics:

Cerebral organoids: ethical issues and consciousness assessment

Andrea Lavazza, Marcello Massimini

Scientists have created so-called mini-brains as developed as a few-months old fetus, albeit smaller and with many structural and functional differences. However, cerebral organoids exhibit neural connections and electrical activity, raising the question whether they are or (which is more likely) will one day be somewhat sentient. In principle, this can be measured with some techniques that are already available (the Perturbational Complexity Index, a metric that is directly inspired by the main postulate of the Integrated Information Theory of consciousness), which are used for brain-injured non-communicating patients. If brain organoids were to show a glimpse of sensibility, an ethical discussion on their use in clinical research and practice would be necessary.


Questions:

  1. Due to the ethical questions that arise from using human brain organoids, should EBICS continue to use human brain organoids for biological robotic control where there would be many connections made with the outside world?
  2. What kind of restrictions if any should there be on the use of human brain cells?  
  3. Name some ethical issues that may arise from the use of human brain tissue in biobots. 
  4. Please come up with your own guidelines for how to address these ethical concerns.