This chapter explores some of the legal issues raised by mind-interventions outside of therapeutic contexts. It is argued that the law will have to recognize a basic human right: cognitive liberty or mental self-determination which guarantees an individual’s sovereignty over her mind and entails the permission to both use and refuse neuroenhancements. Not only proponents but also critics of enhancements should embrace this right as they often ground their cases against enhancement on precisely the interests it protects, even though critics do not always seem to be aware of this. The contours and limits of cognitive liberty are sketched, indicating which reasons are good (or bad) grounds for political regulations of neurotechnologies.
- Cognitive liberty
- Human rights
- Political regulations
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Art. 1 European Charter of Fundamental Rights (ECFR); Art. 1 I German Constitution; Art. 3 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Some peculiarities of legal provisions concerning the body should be noted. Feminists point to the fact that as soon as social interests are at stake, the uniquely personal body becomes highly political, e.g. restrictions on abortion, prostitution, organ selling, surrogate motherhood (cf. Fabre 2006). These limits to self-determination are probably best understood as (arguably too restrictive) dignity-based attempts to not commodify the most intimate aspects of persons.
See the European Courts of Human Rights (ECtHR) recent decision allowing crucifixes in Italian Schools (Lautsi v. Italy; App. 30814/06) compared to the ban by the German Constitutional Court (BVerfGE Vol. 93, 1).
As national legal systems differ, the following remarks are rather general legal observations.
To include non-conscious humans such as nascituri, requirements may be lowered to potentiality for mental processes. Also, acceptance of corporate legal personhood does not necessarily refute the above claim, but I must leave this issue aside here.
See the Journal of Cognitive Liberties at http://www.cognitiveliberty.org, particularly “On Cognitive Liberty I–IV”, to which this chapter is indebted.
Interestingly, “On Liberty” was written during a time in which alcohol was prohibited in some parts of the UK and the US (1859, 151; Boire 2003). Alcohol, the most widespread (social and communicative) enhancer illustrates that persons have always had an interest in changing their minds, and despite all the problems it causes, a new prohibition is unthinkable in the western world.
Art. 9 ECHR; Art. 10 ECFR, Art. 18 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
The US Supreme Court apparently referred to freedom of thought in some decision, yet it is not recognized as part of the 1st amendment protection in the US (cf. Blitz 2010).
ECtHR: Kokkinakis v. Greece (App. 14307/88), 25.05.1993, § 31; Decisions of the German Constitutional Court (BVerfGE) Vol. 80, 367 (381 – dissenting vote).
E.g. UN General Comment No. 22, 1993: Art. 18 UDHR does “not permit any violation whatsoever on the freedom of thought.”
I have yet to find one European case in which freedom of thought played a decisive role.
ECtHR: X v. Iceland (App. 6825/75), 1976.
Decisions of the German Constitutional Court (BVerfGE) Vol. 90, 145.
These are two well-known German cases invoking constitutional protection for trivial activities (BVerfGE Vol. 54, 143; Vol. 80, 137).
Of course, states can regulate markets to avoid exploitation of patients, secure good-practices, assess risk-benefits, etc., but they cannot, in my view, outlaw effective therapies. Therefore, the ideologically motivated ban on the use of psychedelics in (psycho-)therapy has to be lifted, provided substances are effective and relatively safe (currently, the first LSD study for more than 30 year. is conducted by Gassner, www.maps.org/research; regarding MDMA see Mithoefer et al. 2011).
A right to mental self-determination does not rely on a particular view on the mind-brain relationship. While dualists won’t object to mind-brain distinctions, reductionists may agree with the protection of physical processes as identified by their (reducible) mental properties. All that needs to be accepted is that protection of mind- (or brain-)states cannot follow the same normative rules as the protection of the integrity of other parts of the body. Unlike the latter, the mind (and its correlative neuronal processes) is highly dynamic; negative changes in mental phenomena are hardly describable as detrimental on the physical level. An analogy might be drawn to data-protecting provisions. Erasing a computer’s hard disk does not damage the disk itself but the (supervening) information, and hence, stand-alone data-protecting provisions are needed.
Whether (and to which extent) enhancements raise the “standards of reasonable care” is currently being discussed (Vincent 2012; Chap. 21 by Danaher, this volume). As standards of care are not empirical facts but normative judgments, they have to observe the right to cognitive liberty. Regularly, CL should prohibit stipulating legal expectations that others (e.g. pilots) take NE in order to discharge their duties (at least, without consent). Greater factual powers do not automatically lead to greater normative responsibilities. Exceptions might apply in severe, life-threatening circumstances (e.g. military).
For the sake of argument, it is assumed that fundamental rights apply not only to the state-citizen, but also the citizen-citizen relationship. Positive and negative liberties in this sense do not precisely match Isaiah Berlin’s famous distinction.
For an introduction to a theory of rights see Thomson (1990).
Concededly, there may be imperfect duties, i.e. duties without correlating rights, e.g. those owed to children, animals or future generations. However, the latter are arguably moral duties only, and children can be considered as fully right-bearing persons with their legal guardian(s) exercising their rights on their behalf.
As always, exceptions apply in special normative relations, e.g. parents-children.
Blitz (2010) puts forward a different claim. Drawing on the extended mind thesis by Clark and Chalmers, he proposes that the protection of freedom of thought should be expanded to “activity that is […] the functional equivalent of thought” and therewith to computers, IPhones and other devices. However, this expansion eliminates the distinction between personality and property rights. While technical devices/data-storage need (and in fact, enjoy) legal protection, their protection is based on property rights. Even though machines might be functionally similar, freedom of thought can only be meaningfully construed in relation to the human mental realm.
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Bublitz, JC. (2013). My Mind Is Mine!? Cognitive Liberty as a Legal Concept. In: Hildt, E., Franke, A. (eds) Cognitive Enhancement. Trends in Augmentation of Human Performance, vol 1. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6253-4_19
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