Judy Illes, director of the Program in Neuroethics at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, has a new paper out in last Friday’s Science. Co-written with a large number of researchers, working with brain imaging techniques, the paper highlights the ethical issues raised by incidental findings in such studies. The basic problem is that, although a subject may appear healthy, and feel healthy, structural MRI’s and other types of imaging data may yet divulge unexpected brain abnormalities. It is something all non-clinical experiments from time to time are certain to experience – I have myself – and we therefore need a policy for dealing with such findings, especially since many PET and fMRI experiments these days are conducted by investigators who are not medically trained.
Also, we should bear in mind that what today is solely a question of incidental clinical findings may in the future expand to many other, non-clinical areas. You volunteer to partcipate in a language study, and your scanning data turn out to indicate that you have paedophelic tendencies. Should this finding be reported or not?
Illes, J. et al. (2006): Incidental findings in brain imaging research. Science 311: 783-784.