On Neurorights

Front Hum Neurosci. 2021 Sep 24;15:701258. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2021.701258. eCollection 2021.


In recent years, philosophical-legal studies on neuroscience (mainly in the fields of neuroethics and neurolaw) have given increasing prominence to a normative analysis of the ethical-legal challenges in the mind and brain sciences in terms of rights, freedoms, entitlements and associated obligations. This way of analyzing the ethical and legal implications of neuroscience has come to be known as "neurorights." Neurorights can be defined as the ethical, legal, social, or natural principles of freedom or entitlement related to a person's cerebral and mental domain; that is, the fundamental normative rules for the protection and preservation of the human brain and mind. Although reflections on neurorights have received ample coverage in the mainstream media and have rapidly become a mainstream topic in the public neuroethics discourse, the frequency of such reflections in the academic literature is still relatively scarce. While the prominence of the neurorights debate in public opinion is crucial to ensure public engagement and democratic participation in deliberative processes on this issue, its relatively sporadic presence in the academic literature poses a risk of semantic-normative ambiguity and conceptual confusion. This risk is exacerbated by the presence of multiple and not always reconcilable terminologies. Several meta-ethical, normative ethical, and legal-philosophical questions need to be solved in order to ensure that neurorights can be used as effective instruments of global neurotechnology governance and be adequately imported into international human rights law. To overcome the shortcomings above, this paper attempts to provide a comprehensive normative-ethical, historical and conceptual analysis of neurorights. In particular, it attempts to (i) reconstruct a history of neurorights and locate these rights in the broader history of idea, (ii) outline a systematic conceptual taxonomy of neurorights, (iii) summarize ongoing policy initiatives related to neurorights, (iv) proactively address some unresolved ethico-legal challenges, and (v) identify priority areas for further academic reflection and policy work in this domain.

Keywords: human rights; neuroethics; neurolaw; neurorights; science policy.

Publication types

  • Review