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Neurorights in question: rethinking the concept of mental integrity
  1. Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby1,
  2. Peter Ubel2
  1. 1Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA
  2. 2Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby, Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA; Jennifer.blumenthal-barby{at}


The idea of a ‘right to mental integrity’, sometimes referred to as a ‘right against mental interference,’ is a relatively new concept in bioethics, making its way into debates about neurotechnological advances and the establishment of ‘neurorights.’ In this paper, we interrogate the idea of a right to mental integrity. First, we argue that some experts define the right to mental integrity so broadly that rights violations become ubiquitous, thereby trivialising some of the very harms the concept is meant to address. Second, rights-based framing results in an overemphasis on the normative importance of consent, implying that neurointerventions are permissible in cases where people consent to have their mental states influenced or read off, a confidence in consent that we argue is misguided. Third, the concept often collapses the ethics of brain inputs and brain outputs, potentially resulting in a loss of important conceptual nuance. Finally, we argue that the concept of a right to mental integrity is superfluous—what is wrong with most violations of mental integrity can be explained by existing concepts such as autonomy, manipulation, privacy, bodily rights, surveillance, harm and exploitation of vulnerabilities. We conclude that bioethicists and policy-makers ought to either make use of these concepts rather than arguing for the existence of a new right, or they need to avoid making rights violations ubiquitous by settling on a narrower and more rigorous definition of the right.

  • Ethics
  • Neuroimaging
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology

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  • Contributors Both authors (JBB and PU) contributed to conceptualising and writing. JBB is the guarantor of this work.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.