Deep Brain Stimulation, Authenticity and Value

Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 26 (4):640-657 (2017)
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Abstract

Deep brain stimulation has been of considerable interest to bioethicists, in large part because of the effects that the intervention can occasionally have on central features of the recipient’s personality. These effects raise questions regarding the philosophical concept of authenticity. In this article, we expand on our earlier work on the concept of authenticity in the context of deep brain stimulation by developing a diachronic, value-based account of authenticity. Our account draws on both existentialist and essentialist approaches to authenticity, and Laura Waddell Ekstrom’s coherentist approach to personal autonomy. In developing our account, we respond to Sven Nyholm and Elizabeth O’Neill’s synchronic approach to authenticity, and explain how the diachronic approach we defend can have practical utility, contrary to Alexandre Erler and Tony Hope’s criticism of autonomy-based approaches to authenticity. Having drawn a distinction between the authenticity of an individual’s traits and the authenticity of that person’s values, we consider how our conception of authenticity applies to the context of anorexia nervosa in comparison to other prominent accounts of authenticity. We conclude with some reflections on the prudential value of authenticity, and by highlighting how the language of authenticity can be invoked to justify covert forms of paternalism that run contrary to the value of individuality that seems to be at the heart of authenticity.

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Jonathan Pugh
University of Oxford