Staying in the Loop: Relational Agency and Identity in Next-Generation DBS for Psychiatry

American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience 8 (2):59-70 (2017)
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In this article, we explore how deep brain stimulation (DBS) devices designed to “close the loop”—to automatically adjust stimulation levels based on computational algorithms—may risk taking the individual agent “out of the loop” of control in areas where (at least apparent) conscious control is a hallmark of our agency. This is of particular concern in the area of psychiatric disorders, where closed-loop DBS is attracting increasing attention as a therapy. Using a relational model of identity and agency, we consider whether DBS designed for psychiatric regulation may require special attention to agency. To do this, we draw on philosophical work on relational identity and agency, connecting it with reports from people using first-generation DBS devices for depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. We suggest a way to extend a notion of relational agency to encompass neural devices.



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Sara Goering
University of Washington