Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 475–485 | Cite as

The ethics of deep brain stimulation (DBS)

  • Marcus Unterrainer
  • Fuat S. Oduncu
Scientific Contribution


Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is an invasive technique designed to stimulate certain deep brain regions for therapeutic purposes and is currently used mainly in patients with neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. However, DBS is also used increasingly for other experimental applications, such as the treatment of psychiatric disorders (e.g. severe depression), weight reduction. Apart from its therapeutic potential, DBS can cause severe adverse effects, some that might also have a significant impact on the patient’s personality and autonomy by the external stimulation of DBS which effects lie beyond the individual’s control and free will. The article’s purpose is to outline the procedures of DBS currently used in therapeutic and experimental applications and to discuss the ethical concerns regarding this procedure. It will address the clinical benefit-risk-ratio, the particular ethics of research in this field, and the ethical issues raised by affecting a patient’s or an individual’s personality and autonomous behaviour. Moreover, a potential ethical guideline, the Ulysses contract is discussed for the field of clinical application as well as the question of responsibility.


Deep brain stimulation (DBS) Ethics of DBS Ulysses contract Neuroethics Parkinson’s disease (PD) 



We would like to thank very much Dr. Todd Braciak and Alison Schulz B.Sc. for their help with editing of the manuscript as well as Prof. Dr. Michael Rust for his fruitful discussion on the paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Medical Faculty of the University of MunichMunichGermany
  2. 2.Division of Hematology and Oncology, Medizinische Klinik und Poliklinik IVKlinikum der Universität MünchenMunichGermany

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