Personal identity, enhancement and neurosurgery: a qualitative study in applied neuroethics

Bioethics. 2009 Jul;23(6):375-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2009.01729.x.


Recent developments in the field of neurosurgery, specifically those dealing with the modification of mood and affect as part of psychiatric disease, have led some researchers to discuss the ethical implications of surgery to alter personality and personal identity. As knowledge and technology advance, discussions of surgery to alter undesirable traits, or possibly the enhancement of normal traits, will play an increasingly larger role in the ethical literature. So far, identity and enhancement have yet to be explored in a neurosurgical context, despite the fact that 1) neurological disease and treatment both potentially alter identity, and 2) that neurosurgeons will likely be the purveyors of future enhancement implantable technology. Here, we use interviews with neurosurgical patients to shed light on the ethical issues and challenges that surround identity and enhancement in neurosurgery. The results provide insight into how patients approach their identity prior to potentially identity-altering procedures and what future ethical challenges lay ahead for clinicians and researchers in the field of neurotherapeutics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Biomedical Enhancement / ethics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Identification, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurosurgical Procedures / ethics*
  • Psychosurgery / ethics
  • Qualitative Research
  • Self Concept*
  • United States