Extending our view on using BCIs for locked-in syndrome

Neuroethics 1 (2):119-132 (2008)
Locked-in syndrome (LIS) is a severe neurological condition that typically leaves a patient unable to move, talk and, in many cases, initiate communication. Brain Computer Interfaces (or BCIs) promise to enable individuals with conditions like LIS to re-engage with their physical and social worlds. In this paper we will use extended mind theory to offer a way of seeing the potential of BCIs when attached to, or implanted in, individuals with LIS. In particular, we will contend that functionally integrated BCIs extend the minds of individuals with LIS beyond their bodies, allowing them greater autonomy than they can typically hope for in living with their condition. This raises important philosophical questions about the implications of BCI technology, particularly the potential to change selves, and ethical questions about whether society has a responsibility to aid these individuals in re-engaging with their physical and social worlds. It also raises some important questions about when these interventions should be offered to individuals with LIS and respecting the rights of these individuals to refuse intervention. By aiding willing individuals in re-engaging with their physical and social worlds, BCIs open up avenues of opportunity taken for granted by able individuals and introduce new ways in which these individuals can be harmed. These latter considerations serve to highlight our emergent social responsibilities to those individuals who will be suitable for, and receive, BCIs.
Keywords Brain–computer interfaces  Locked-in syndrome  Extended mind theory  Neuroethics  Autonomy
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DOI 10.1007/s12152-008-9014-8
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Janet Levin, Functionalism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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