Bioethics Blogs

Neuroethics Network and DBS

By Ethan Morris

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Ethan Morris is a rising undergraduate senior at Emory University, majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology with a minor in History. Ethan is a member of the Dilks Lab at Emory and is a legislator on the Emory University Student Government Association. Ethan is from Denver, Colorado and loves to ski.  

One thought-provoking panel at the Paris Neuroethics Network discussed deep-brain stimulation, or DBS. DBS is a relatively novel treatment in which surgeons implant an electrode deep within the brain. When the electrode is turned on, it produces a current that has been shown to alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Various studies have provided compelling evidence that DBS may also be an effective treatment for psychiatric disorders, such as major depression, especially when other treatment options are exhausted.

The conference panelists discussed the ethical concerns about DBS, in particular the idea of the “true self” and whether this is affected by DBS. Studies have shown that after DBS surgery, patients can experience personality changes, which has led to some concern that DBS threatens personal identity. The concept of personal identity is nebulous, but some believe that too stark a contrast in personality between pre- and post-DBS constitutes a violation of identity. As was raised by the panelists, this purported identity change may actually be welcomed by the patient who feels their “true self” has been unlocked; however, families may also feel their loved one is no longer the same person.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.