Neuroimaging in psychiatry: Evaluating the ethical consequences for patient care

Bioethics 23 (6):349-359 (2009)
According to many researchers, it is inevitable and obvious that psychiatric illnesses are biological in nature, and that this is the rationale behind the numerous neuroimaging studies of individuals diagnosed with mental disorders. Scholars looking at the history of psychiatry have pointed out that in the past, the origins and motivations behind the search for biological causes, correlates, and cures for mental disorders are thoroughly social and historically rooted, particularly when the diagnostic category in question is the subject of controversy within psychiatry. This is obscured by neuroimaging studies that drive researchers to proclaim 'revolutions' in psychiatry, namely in the DSM. Providing neuroimaging evidence to support the contention that a condition is 'real' is likely to be extremely influential, as has been extensively discussed in the neuroethics literature. This type of evidence will also reinforce the pre-existing beliefs of those researchers or clinicians who are already expecting a biological description. The uncritical credence given to neuroimaging research is an ethical issue, not in its potential for contributing to misdiagnosis per se but because of the motivations that often drive this research. My claim is that this research should proceed with an awareness of presumptions and motivations underlying the field as a whole, in addition to an explicit focus on the past and potential future consequences of classification and diagnosis on the groups of individuals under study.
Keywords psychiatry  neuroethics  neuroimaging  nosology  DSM  ethics
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DOI 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2009.01724.x
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