, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 185–195 | Cite as

The Sensitivity of Neuroimaging Data

  • Jan-Hendrik HeinrichsEmail author
Original Paper


When new methods of generating information about individuals leave the confined space of research application the possibility of morally dubious application arises. The current propagation of neuroscientific diagnostics leads to new possibilities of misuse and accordingly new needs for the protection of individual privacy emerge. While most current privacy discussion focuses on sensationalist applications which aim/claim to gather information about psychological traits or even the content of thoughts, the more sober but much more realistic endeavour to gather health data from research or medical imaging studies is widely neglected. I will try to answer the question if and in how far data from neuroscientific imaging technologies require special protection. Two developments form the background of the ethical discussion: the increased diagnostic power of neuroimaging techniques and the wider distribution of this technology beyond specialized medical offices and clinics. The first development is likely to broaden the scope of data, which are considered relevant for health care and related decisions. The latter is likely to widen the scope of persons who might have access to diagnostic results without at the time taking the role of a doctor towards the person diagnosed. I will argue that neuroimaging data are currently primarily medical data and that the associated standards of consent and confidentiality are worth protecting. Even nonmedical applications of neuroimaging technology inherit too much of the diagnostic power for which they were originally invented, for it to be advisable to drop the accompanying consent and confidentiality requirements.


Privacy Data protection Health data Neuroimaging 


  1. 1.
    Putnam, Hilary. 1975. The meaning of ‘meaning’. Mind, Language and Reality, Philosophical Papers Vol II, 216–271. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Jagger, Carol, Ruth Matthews, James Lindesay, Thompson Robinson, Peter Croft, and Carol Brayne. 2009. The effect of dementia trends and treatments on longevity and disability: A simulation model based on the MRC Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (MRC CFAS). Age and Ageing 38(3): 319–325. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afp016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Kulynych, Jennifer. 2002. Legal and ethical Issues in Neuroimaging Research. Brain and Cognition 50: 345–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Schleim, Stephan, and Jonathan P. Roiser. 2009. fMRI in translation: The challenges facing real world applications. Frontiers of Human Neuroscience 3(63): 1–7.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Walter, Henrik, and Stephan Schleim. 2007. Gedankenlesen – Eine Herausforderung für die Neuroethik. In Ohne Hirn ist alles nichts, ed. Hoppe, Christian and Frank Vogelsang. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchner.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Scott, Charity. 2000. Is too much privacy bad for your health? An introduction to the law, ethics and HIPAA rule on medical privacy. Georgia State University Law Review 17(2): 481–530.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Pin Le Corre, S., C. Scodellaro, and P. Arwidson. 2009. The image of patients and caregivers in the social perception of Alzheimer’s disease—Results from a literature review and a qualitative study considered with this target. Alzheimer’s & Dementia. The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association 5(4): 233.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Murphy, Dominic. 2009. Concepts of Disease and Health. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) Accessed 08/02/2011.
  9. 9.
    United States Congress 2008. Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (Pub.L. 110–233, 122 Stat. 881, enacted May 21, 2008).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    O’Neill, Onora. 1997. Genetic information and insurance: Some ethical issues. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London B 352: 1087–1093.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Kitcher, Philip. 1997. The lives to come. New York: Touchstone.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Gitelman, Darren R. 2003. Acalculia: A disorder of numerical cognition. In Neurological foundations of cognitive neuroscience, ed. D’Esposito, Mark. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Farah, Martha J., Elizabeth M. Smith, Cyrena Gawuga, Dennis Lindsell, and Dean Foster. 2008. Brain imaging and brain privacy: A realistic concern? Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 21(1): 119–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Farah, Martha J. 2004. Neuroethics: A guide for the perplexed. Cerebrum, Accessed 15 September 2011.
  15. 15.
    Conrad, Peter. 2007. The medicalization of society: On the transformation of human conditions into treatable disorders. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Haverkamp, F., U. Eiholzer, M.B. Ranke, and M. Noeker. 2000. Symptomatic versus substitution growth hormone therapy in short children. From auxology towards a comprehensive multidimensional assessment of short stature and related interventions. Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology & Metabolism 13: 403–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    President’s Council on Bioethics. 2003. Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the pursuit of happiness. Washington D.C.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    British MRC Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (MRC CFAS), Accessed 15 September 2011

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Forschungszentrum JülichInstitute for Neuroscience and Medicine 8, Ethics in the NeurosciencesJülichGermany

Personalised recommendations