Deep brain stimulation, continuity over time, and the true self

S.R. Nyholm, E.R.H. O'Neill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)


One of the topics that often comes up in ethical discussions of deep brain stimulation (DBS), is the question of what impact DBS has, or might have, on the patient’s self. This is often understood as a question of whether DBS poses a “threat” to personal identity, which is typically understood as having to do with psychological and/or narrative continuity over time. In this article, we argue that the discussion of whether DBS is a “threat” to continuity over time is too narrow. There are other questions concerning DBS and the self that are overlooked in discussions exclusively focusing on psychological and/or narrative continuity. For example, it is also important to investigate whether DBS might sometimes have a positive (e.g. a rehabilitating) effect on the patient’s self. To widen the discussion of DBS, so as to make it encompass a broader range of considerations that bear on DBS’s impact on the self, we identify six features of the commonly used concept of a person’s “true self”. We apply these six features to the relation between DBS and the self. And we end with a brief discussion of the role DBS might play in treating otherwise treatment-refractory anorexia nervosa. This further highlights the importance of discussing both continuity over time and the notion of the true self
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)647-658
Number of pages12
JournalCambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sep 2016


  • deep brain stimulation
  • the self
  • the true self
  • ethics


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