Human Brain Organoids – Can These Lab-Grown Brains Be Considered People Legally?

Human Brain Organoids – Can These Lab-Grown Brains Be Considered People Legally?

In a lab, stem cells are used to create brain organoids, which resemble the development and structure of real human brains so does that make them potential people that can hold legal rights?

Researchers have found that they don’t meet the criteria for being regarded as natural individuals even though they have a lot in common.

In other words, the study examines if human brain organoids may be regarded as legal humans and whether this can ever be the case, in the future.

Human brain organoids are lab-grown, scaled-down representations of how the human brain develops that may be used to study the causes and test potential therapies for neurological disorders.

In order to explain concerns like informed consent and appropriate usage, researchers from Japan and Taiwan contend that a legal framework is required to direct the discussion concerning the possible personhood status of human brain organoids.

Although human brain organoids don’t meet all of the criteria for being considered a natural person yet, this may change in the future, especially as technology for creating human brain organoids develops.

They are currently grown in labs using stem cells, consume nutritional broth and act as a scaled-down representation of how the human brain develops, allowing scientists to better explore the causes and potential therapies of neurological illnesses thanks to their development and structure, which closely resembles parts of actual brains.

But are they close enough to each other to qualify as distinct individuals?

The researchers suggest that the legal perspective may be crucial in understanding the potential personhood of brain organoids, despite the fact that the issue is quite complicated in many ethical ways.

The team presented their case for a legal framework in the Journal of Law and Biosciences.

Corresponding author Tsutomu Sawai says that “The moral status of human brain organoids has often been discussed, but their legal status has rarely been discussed. To clarify the legal status of human brain organoids will illuminate issues such as what information should be informed to the cell donor, to what extent the donor’s consent justifies the research, and what uses are acceptable.”

According to Sawai, legally, a person is any entity that is endowed with rights and obligations.

The term “natural person” refers to a person who is a legal human being who can be regarded as dead if their heart or brain stops.

Juridical persons are nonhuman legal entities, which can include businesses and governmental organizations.

The team examines how brain organoids fit into the legal definition of a natural person in their paper.

According to Sawai, the organoids do not currently satisfy the prerequisites of what it means to be a natural person, but future research may close the gaps.

First author Masanori Kataoka explained that “Although human brain organoids do not constitute natural persons at present, the likelihood of their potential to become natural persons in the near future requires more thorough consideration in advance of that reality occurring. Research on linking human brain organoids with bodies is expected to advance rapidly in the coming years, whereas the conditions of natural personhood, especially viability and birth are becoming increasingly flexible and contentious.”

The scientists pointed out that prior discussions on this subject have largely concentrated on the concept of natural personhood, obscuring concerns about the potential for brain organoids to one day in the future have juridical personhood. In order for corporations, for instance, to engage in legal activities like signing contracts, they must be deemed to be juridical persons.

According to Kataoka, the question of whether this holds true for human brain organoids should be treated separately from the question of whether or not they are natural persons. It would depend on what legal goals such consideration might have.

Sawai shared that “Current brain organoid technology is in many ways quite limited, and it has not yet reached a stage where human brain organoids could become natural or juridical persons. However, as we have emphasized, this issue will soon become urgent once brain organoid technology has been further developed. In preparation for that time, it is essential to examine the accompanying questions thoroughly and in advance; we have taken the first step in that direction.”

Katherine Baldwin

Katherine is just getting her start as a journalist. She attended a technical school while still in high school where she learned a variety of skills, from photography to nutrition. Her enthusiasm for both natural and human sciences is real so she particularly enjoys covering topics on medicine and the environment.

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