Consent to deep brain stimulation for neurological and psychiatric disorders

J Clin Ethics. 2010 Summer;21(2):104-11.


Deep brain stimulation (DBS) of the globus pallidus interna and subthalamic nucleus has restored some degree of motor control in many patients in advanced stages of Parkinson's disease. DBS has also been used to treat dystonia, essential tremor (progressive neurological condition causing trembling), chronic pain, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette's syndrome, major depressive disorder, obesity, cerebral palsy, and the minimally conscious state. Although the underlying mechanisms of the technique are still not clear, DBS can modulate underactive or overactive neural circuits and restore disrupted communication between and among groups of neurons in interacting regions of the brain.This can control and relieve many symptoms associated with a range of neurological and psychiatric disorders. But the procedures of implanting and stimulating the electrodes are brain-invasive and entail significant risks. Some patients receiving DBS have experienced intracerebral hemorrhage, infection, cognitive disturbances such as impulsive behavior, and affective disturbances such as mania. It is not known whether continuous electrical stimulation of the brain would reshape synaptic connectivity and permanently alter neural circuits in ways that may not be salutary. The risk of these effects indicates that DBS should be used only when a patient's condition is refractory to all other interventions and when there is a high probability that the technique will benefit the patient and improve his or her quality of life. If a patient's quality of life is poor and all other treatment options have been exhausted, then the likelihood of benefit can justify physicians' exposing patients to some risk. The clinical and ethical significance of the risk in DBS underscores the obligation of physicians to obtain fully informed consent from patients undergoing the procedure.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Cognition
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Commitment of Mentally Ill
  • Decision Making* / ethics
  • Deep Brain Stimulation* / adverse effects
  • Deep Brain Stimulation* / ethics
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent* / ethics
  • Informed Consent* / psychology
  • Male
  • Mental Competency*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Middle Aged
  • Narration
  • Nervous System Diseases / therapy
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / therapy*
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology
  • Parkinson Disease / psychology
  • Parkinson Disease / therapy*
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Quality of Life
  • Withholding Treatment / ethics