When Is a Brain Organoid a Sentience Candidate?

Molecular Psychology (forthcoming)
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It would be unwise to dismiss the possibility of human brain organoids developing sentience. However, scepticism about this idea is appropriate when considering current organoids. It is a point of consensus that a brainstem-dead human is not sentient, and current organoids lack a functioning brainstem. There are nonetheless troubling early warning signs, suggesting organoid research may create forms of sentience in the near future. To err on the side of caution, researchers with very different views about the neural basis of sentience should unite behind the “brainstem rule”: if a neural organoid develops or innervates a functioning brainstem that registers and prioritizes its needs, regulates arousal, and leads to sleep-wake cycles, then it is a sentience candidate. If organoid research leads to the creation of sentience candidates, a moratorium or indefinite ban on the creation of the relevant type of organoid may be appropriate. A different way forward, more consistent with existing approaches to animal research, would be to require ethical review and harm-benefit analysis for all research on sentience candidates.

Author's Profile

Jonathan Birch
London School of Economics


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