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Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

Print Price: $73.95

208 pp.
1 illustration, 6.125" x 9.25"


Publication date:
February 2016

Imprint: OUP US

The Neuroethics of Biomarkers

What the Development of Bioprediction Means for Moral Responsibility, Justice, and the Nature of Mental Disorder

Matthew L. Baum

Series : Oxford Studies in Neuroscience, Law, and Philosophy

Neuroscientists are mining nucleic acids, blood, saliva, and brain images in hopes of uncovering biomarkers that could help estimate risk of brain disorders like psychosis and dementia; though the science of bioprediction is young, its prospects are unearthing controversy about how bioprediction should enter hospitals, courtrooms, or state houses. While medicine, law, and policy have established protocols for how presence of disorders should change what we owe each other or who we blame, they have no stock answers for the probabilities that bioprediction offers. The Neuroethics of Biomarkers observes, however, that for many disorders, what we really care about is not their presence per se, but certain risks that they carry.

The current reliance of moral and legal structures on a categorical concept of disorder (sick verses well), therefore, obscures difficult questions about what types and magnitudes of probabilities matter. Baum argues that progress in the neuroethics of biomarkers requires the rejection of the binary concept of disorder in favor of a probabilistic one based on biological variation with risk of harm, which Baum names a "Probability Dysfunction." This risk-reorientation clarifies practical ethical issues surrounding the definition of mental disorder in the DSM-5 and the nosology of conditions defined by risk of psychosis and dementia. Baum also challenges the principle that the acceptability of bioprediction should depend primarily on whether it is medically useful by arguing that biomarkers can also be morally useful through enabling moral agency, better assessment of legal responsibility, and fairer distributive justice. The Neuroethics of Biomarkers should be of interest to those within neuroethics, medical ethics, and the philosophy of psychiatry.

Readership : Academic. The neuroethics, medical ethics, and philosophy of psychiatry communities. Medical Ethics Community, Philosophy of Psychiatry Community, and Neuroscience & Law Community.


  • "Our society is only beginning to come to grips with the profound implications of using biomarkers as imperfect 'crystal balls' for predicting the development of neurological and psychiatric disease. Dr. Baum's book is an essential guide to the scientific foundations of these tools and the difficult ethical questions that they raise about moral responsibility and priority setting."

    --Robert D. Truog, Frances Glessner Lee Professor of Medical Ethics, Anaesthesiology, & Pediatrics and Director of the Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School

  • "An exciting and comprehensive look at an important topic. Sure to be of interest to scientists and bioethicists working in the area."

    --I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law and Faculty Director, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics, Harvard Law School

1. The Biomedical Promise Of Biomarkers
2. Bioprediction Of Brain Disorder: Definitions And Scope
3. "There Is More Light Here." Re-Illuminating The Categories Of Mental
4. The Probability Dysfunction
5. The Practical Ethics Of Predictive Markers In Diagnosis: Can Risk Banding Address The Ethical Controversy Surrounding "Psychosis Risk Syndrome" And "Preclinical Alzheimer's Disease"?
6. Enhanced Responsibility: Foreseeability And New Obligations To Others
7. Reduced Responsibility: Distinguishing Conditions In Which Biomarkers Properly Reduce Legal Responsibility
8. Bioprediction And Priority
Appendix I
Appendix II
Appendix III

There are no Instructor/Student Resources available at this time.

Matthew L. Baum, DPhil, is an MD-PhD trainee at Harvard & MIT within the Division of Health Sciences & Technology and the Harvard Program in Neuroscience. He earned a DPhil from Oxford via his work at the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics and the Ethox Center as a Rhodes Scholar. He holds an MSc in Neuroscience from Trinity College Dublin, where he studied as a Mitchell Scholar. He has also served as the student/post-doc representative to the board of the International Neuroethics Society.

Bioprediction, Biomarkers, and Bad Behavior - Edited by Ilina Singh, Walter P. Sinnott-Armstrong and Julian Savulecu
Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics - Edited by Dr. Judy Illes and Dr. Barbara J. Sahakian
Neurobiology of Mental Illness - Edited by Dennis S. Charney, Eric J. Nestler, Pamela Sklar and Joseph D. Buxbaum
Bioethics and the Brain - Walter Glannon

Special Features

  • New theory of disorder.
  • Controversial thesis that the development of biomarkers reveals problematic oversimplifications.
  • Controversial thesis that the development of biomarkers reveals that our moral and legal frameworks have elided important questions.
  • Interdisciplinary in making its argument and drawing its conclusions.