Position: DPhil Student
Project(s): Changing Minds: Psychedelic Bioethics, Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, Becoming Good: Early Intervention and Moral Development in Psychiatry (BeGOOD)
I am a DPhil student working within the NEUROSEC team at the Department of Psychiatry, as well as the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities.
I originally joined the team to undertake research that is best characterised as ‘empirical ethics’: using both normative theorising and psychological and sociological data to better understand the nature of morality. For example, as part of the BeGOOD project’s ‘digital diaries’ study, I supported the development of new methodologies to explore how adolescents experience morality on a day-to-day basis.
I found the framework of empirical ethics to be particularly valuable, and am now carrying it – and other approaches – into my DPhil, an interdisciplinary exploration of the Bioethical Dimensions of Psychedelic-assisted Psychotherapy. A broad overview of the motivation and rationale for my project is available here.
Before joining the department, I worked at The Beckley Foundation, supporting psychedelic science studies with university partners. I continue to research scientific, bioethical, and policy aspects of psychedelic therapy as a Visiting Associate at King’s College London’s Centre for Affective Disorders.
I completed my undergraduate degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Balliol College, before continuing to graduate study in Philosophy of Mind, Cognitive Neuroscience and Buddhist Studies.
Neuroenhancements in the Military: A Mixed-Method Pilot Study on Attitudes of Staff Officers to Ethics and Rules.
Utilising science and technology to maximize human performance is often an essential feature of military activity. This can often be focused on mission success rather than just the welfare of the individuals involved. This tension has the potential to threaten the autonomy of soldiers and military physicians around the taking or administering of enhancement neurotechnologies (e.g., pills, neural implants, and neuroprostheses). The Hybrid Framework was proposed by academic researchers working in the U.S. context and comprises “rules” for military neuroenhancement (e.g., ensuring transparency and maintaining dignity of the warfighter). Integrating traditional bioethical perspectives with the unique requirements of the military environment, it has been referenced by military/government agencies tasked with writing official ethical frameworks. Our two-part investigation explored the ethical dimensions of military neuroenhancements with military officers – those most likely to be making decisions in this area in the future. In three workshops, structured around the Hybrid Framework, we explored what they thought about the ethical issues of enhancement neurotechnologies. From these findings, we conducted a survey (N = 332) to probe the extent of rule endorsement. Results show high levels of endorsement for a warfighter’s decision-making autonomy, but lower support for the view that enhanced warfighters would pose a danger to society after service. By examining the endorsement of concrete decision-making guidelines, we provide an overview of how military officers might, in practice, resolve tensions between competing values or higher-level principles. Our results suggest that the military context demands a recontextualisation of the relationship between military and civilian ethics.
How to build a game for empirical bioethics research: The case of ‘Tracing Tomorrow’.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the field of empirical bioethics requires methodological innovations that can keep up with the scale and pace of contemporary research in health and medicine. With that in mind, we have recently argued for Design Bioethics—the use of purpose-built, engineered research tools that allow researchers to investigate moral decision-making in ways that are embodied and contextualized. In this paper, we outline the development, testing and implementation of a novel prototype tool in the Design Bioethics Workshop—with each step illustrated with collected data. Titled ‘Tracing Tomorrow’ (www.tracingtomorrow.org), the tool is a narrative game to investigate young people's values and preferences in the context of digital phenotyping for mental health. The process involved (1) Working with young people to discover, validate and define the morally relevant cases or problems, (2) Building and testing the game concept in collaboration with relevant groups and game developers, (3) Developing prototypes that were tested and iterated in partnership with groups of young people and game developers and (4) Disseminating the game to young people to collect data to investigate research questions. We argue that Design Bioethics yields tools that are relevant, representative and meaningful to target populations and provide improved data for bioethics analysis.
Patient or Public ContributionIn planning and conducting this study, we consulted with young people from a diverse range of backgrounds, including the NeurOX Young People's Advisory Group, the What Lies Ahead Junior Researchers Team, Censuswide youth participants and young people from the Livity Youth Network.
A potential role for psilocybin in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder
The recent revivification of interest in the therapeutic use of psychedelics has had a particular focus on mood disorders and addiction, although there is reason to think these drugs may be effective more widely. After outlining pertinent aspects of psilocybin and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the current review summarizes the evidence indicating that there may be a role for psilocybin in the treatment of OCD, as well as highlighting a range of potential therapeutic mechanisms that reflect the action of psilocybin on brain function. Although the current evidence is limited, that multiple signals point in directions consistent with treatment potential, alongside the psychological and physiological safety of clinically administered psilocybin, support the expansion of research, both in animal models and in further randomized controlled trials, to properly investigate this potential.