Evidence-Based Neuroethics, Deep Brain Stimulation and Personality - Deflating, but not Bursting, the Bubble

Neuroethics 14 (1):27-38 (2018)
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Gilbert et al. have raised important questions about the empirical grounding of neuroethical analyses of the apparent phenomenon of Deep Brain Stimulation ‘causing’ personality changes. In this paper, we consider how to make neuroethical claims appropriately calibrated to existing evidence, and the role that philosophical neuroethics has to play in this enterprise of ‘evidence-based neuroethics’. In the first half of the paper, we begin by highlighting the challenges we face in investigating changes to PIAAAS following DBS, explaining how different trial designs may be of different degrees of utility, depending on how changes to PIAAAS following DBS are manifested. In particular, we suggest that the trial designs Gilbert et al. call for may not be able to tell us whether or not DBS directly causes changes to personality. However, we suggest that this is not the most significant question about this phenomenon; the most significant question is whether these changes should matter morally, however they are caused. We go on to suggest that neuroethical analyses of novel neuro-interventions should be carried out in accordance with the levels of evidence hierarchy outlined by the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, and explain different ways in which neuroethical analyses of changes to PIAAAS can be evidence-based on this framework. In the second half of the paper, we explain how philosophical neuroethics can play an important role in contributing to mechanism-based reasoning about potential effects on PIAAAS following DBS, a form of evidence that is also incorporated into the CEBM levels of evidence hierarchy.



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Author Profiles

Jonathan Pugh
University of Oxford
Julian Savulescu
Oxford University