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What we (Should) Talk about when we Talk about Deep Brain Stimulation and Personal Identity

  • Robyn BluhmEmail author
  • Laura Cabrera
  • Rachel McKenzie
Original Paper


A number of reports have suggested that patients who undergo deep brain stimulation (DBS) may experience changes to their personality or sense of self. These reports have attracted great philosophical interest. This paper surveys the philosophical literature on personal identity and DBS and draws on an emerging empirical literature on the experiences of patients who have undergone this therapy to argue that the existing philosophical discussion of DBS and personal identity frames the problem too narrowly. Much of the discussion by neuroethicists centers on the nature of the threat posed by DBS, asking whether it is best understood as a threat to personal identity, autonomy, agency, or authenticity, or as putting patients at risk of self-estrangement. Our aim in this paper is to use the empirical literature on patients’ experiences post-DBS to open up a broader range of questions - both philosophical and practical, and to suggest that attention to these questions will help to provide better support to patients, both before and after treatment.


Deep brain stimulation Personal identity Self Neuroethics 



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Lyman Briggs CollegeMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences, College of Human MedicineMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  3. 3.School of CommunicationOhio State UniversityColumbusUSA

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