Curtis Bell, Senior Scientist Emeritus at Oregon Health and Science University, has recently circulated a document which he is promoting as a “Pledge by Neuroscientists to Refuse to Participate in the Application of Neuroscience to Violations of Basic Human Rights or International Law.” The full pledge is reproduced below, and can be accessed here. While individuals may wish to sign the pledge, what we view as most important is to develop a conversation regarding the merits of what Curtis has suggested. Specifically, while many responsible neuroscientists may agree with the overall sentiment, they may not agree with all aspects of the pledge as written. Whether you agree or not, this issue merits feedback from members of the neuroscience community in general and the neuroethics community in particular.
Pledge by Neuroscientists to Refuse to Participate in the Application of Neuroscience to Violations of Basic Human Rights or International Law.
We are Neuroscientists who desire that our work be used to enhance human life rather than to diminish it. We are concerned with the possible use of Neuroscience for purposes that violate fundamental human rights and international law. We seek to create a culture within the field of Neuroscience in which contributions to such uses are unacceptable.
Thus, we oppose the application of Neuroscience to torture and other forms of coercive interrogation or manipulation that violate human rights and personhood. Such applications could include drugs that cause excessive pain, anxiety, or trust, and manipulations such as brain stimulation or inactivation.
Thus, we also oppose the application of Neuroscience to aggressive war. Aggressive war is illegal under international law, where it is defined as a war that is not in self defense. A government which engages in aggressive wars should not be provided with tools to engage more effectively in such wars. Neuroscience can and does provide such tools. Examples include drugs which enhance the effectiveness of soldiers on one side, drugs which damage the effectiveness of soldiers on the other side, and robots that move, perceive, and kill.
As Neuroscientists we therefore pledge:
a) To make ourselves aware of the potential applications of our own work and that of others to applications that violate basic human rights or international law such as torture and aggressive war.
b) To refuse to knowingly participate in the application of Neuroscience to violations of basic human rights or international law.