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Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine: An International Journal
SJR: 0.123

ISSN Imprimer: 2151-805X
ISSN En ligne: 2151-8068

Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine: An International Journal

DOI: 10.1615/EthicsBiologyEngMed.2012006057
pages 305-316

Major Safety and Ethical Concerns in Brain Stimulation

Mulugeta Semework
Department of Neuroscience, Columbia University, 1051 Riverside Dr., Unit 87, New York, NY, 10032
Subrata Saha
Affiliate Professor, Department of Restorative Dentistry Affiliate Instructor, Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery School of Dentistry, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-6365, USA; Courtesy Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Florida International University, Miami, Florida 33174, USA


Over the last few decades, a great deal of progress has been made in the therapeutic use of electrical stimulus in alleviating pain, in correcting heart, motor and autonomic nervous system control problems, and in many more applications. Deep brain stimulation has been successfully used in treating various psychiatric disorders and may even help improve cognitive impairments. However, although its benefits outweigh its perils, electrical stimulation, especially of the brain, has not been fully accepted. Some researchers, medical professionals, and a few skeptical members of the target community still question its validity. This article discusses the generally debated central safety and ethical issues. As similar points are commonly raised regarding its use in or on various body parts, problems and possible solutions are presented using the examples of the most widely used application of electrical stimulus, deep brain stimulation. Generally, side effects from system implant surgery or the actual activity of stimulating the targeted brain areas affecting symptoms, such as depression and lesions where they occur, are still major sources of concern. Large gaps exist among the challenges that have to be overcome, what is known, and what needs to be communicated. Major ethical dilemmas concerning side effects such as suicidal tendencies, cognitive impairment, even personal identity crises, remain to be addressed.