The ethics of deep brain stimulation

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 18 (4):475-485 (2015)
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Abstract

Deep brain stimulation is an invasive technique designed to stimulate certain deep brain regions for therapeutic purposes and is currently used mainly in patients with neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. However, DBS is also used increasingly for other experimental applications, such as the treatment of psychiatric disorders, weight reduction. Apart from its therapeutic potential, DBS can cause severe adverse effects, some that might also have a significant impact on the patient’s personality and autonomy by the external stimulation of DBS which effects lie beyond the individual’s control and free will. The article’s purpose is to outline the procedures of DBS currently used in therapeutic and experimental applications and to discuss the ethical concerns regarding this procedure. It will address the clinical benefit-risk-ratio, the particular ethics of research in this field, and the ethical issues raised by affecting a patient’s or an individual’s personality and autonomous behaviour. Moreover, a potential ethical guideline, the Ulysses contract is discussed for the field of clinical application as well as the question of responsibility.

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