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Neuroethics. 2013;6:513-526. Epub 2011 Sep 14.

"I Am Who I Am": On the Perceived Threats to Personal Identity from Deep Brain Stimulation.

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Faculty of Medicine, Novel Tech Ethics, Dalhousie University, 1379 Seymour Street, P.O. Box 15000, Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada B3H 4R2.


This article explores the notion of the dislocated self following deep brain stimulation (DBS) and concludes that when personal identity is understood in dynamic, narrative, and relational terms, the claim that DBS is a threat to personal identity is deeply problematic. While DBS may result in profound changes in behaviour, mood and cognition (characteristics closely linked to personality), it is not helpful to characterize DBS as threatening to personal identity insofar as this claim is either false, misdirected or trivially true. The claim is false insofar as it misunderstands the dynamic nature of identity formation. The claim is misdirected at DBS insofar as the real threat to personal identity is the discriminatory attitudes of others towards persons with motor and other disabilities. The claim is trivially true insofar as any dramatic event or experience integrated into one's identity-constituting narrative could then potentially be described as threatening. From the perspective of relational personal identity, when DBS dramatically disrupts the narrative flow, this disruption is best examined through the lens of agency. For illustrative purposes, the focus is on DBS for the treatment of Parkinson's disease.


Agency; Deep brain stimulation; Neuroethics; Parkinson’s disease; Personal identity

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