A chip in your brain, and the right to mental self-determination
Sjors Ligthart in a popular science video on the legal aspects of neurotechnology
The new episode of a video series – produced by Universiteit van Nederland and NTR Wetenschap – is about the 'designer brain': how a chip implanted in the brain can help someone function better in life. For people with Parkinson's disease or an anxiety disorder, neuromodulation can be a solution. Besides, research is taking place into criminal justice application, to try to make convicted criminals less aggressive through brain stimulation. Three scientists – a neurosurgeon, a medical ethicist and legal expert Sjors Ligthart (affiliated with Utrecht University and Tilburg University) – explain the subject from their respective disciplines for a wide audience, with Lighthart zooming in on the implications for the right to mental self-determination.
"It is now a major theme at the United Nations and the Council of Europe: how should human rights protect our brain, emotions and thoughts?" says Ligthart in the video. "For example, a right to mental self-determination is being considered. This right has two sides. On the one hand, it is a right against having your brain and mental traits changed involuntarily. But on the other hand, it is also a right to voluntarily optimise your own brain, through therapy, education, medication, as well as brain stimulation."
The right to mental self-determination has two sides. On the one hand, it is a right against having your brain and mental traits altered involuntarily. But on the other hand, it is also a right to voluntarily optimise your own brain: through therapy, education, medication – but also through brain stimulation.
"Viewed from such a right, it could therefore be argued, that if brain stimulation contributes to a happier life in your case, you would be allowed to use it voluntarily – provided the technique is safe and effective, of course. For example, studies are currently under way to make convicts less aggressive through brain stimulation. In that case, the right to mental self-determination means, on the one hand, that the government should not intervene in the brains of convicts without permission, but on the other hand, convicts should also have the freedom to voluntarily and consciously choose brain-optimising treatment. Indeed, suppose that brain stimulation would allow convicts to return to society sooner and more safely, the government might even have a duty to offer such treatment."
Sjors Ligthart is postdoc with the NWO project Law and Ethics of Neurotechnology in Criminal Justice (LENC), in which ethicists and legal experts are jointly researching the responsible use of neurotechnology in criminal justice to reduce recidivism.