Ethics of the electrified mind: defining issues and perspectives on the principled use of brain stimulation in medical research and clinical care

Brain Topogr. 2014 Jan;27(1):33-45. doi: 10.1007/s10548-013-0296-8. Epub 2013 Jun 4.


In recent years, non-pharmacologic approaches to modifying human neural activity have gained increasing attention. One of these approaches is brain stimulation, which involves either the direct application of electrical current to structures in the nervous system or the indirect application of current by means of electromagnetic induction. Interventions that manipulate the brain have generally been regarded as having both the potential to alleviate devastating brain-related conditions and the capacity to create unforeseen and unwanted consequences. Hence, although brain stimulation techniques offer considerable benefits to society, they also raise a number of ethical concerns. In this paper we will address various dilemmas related to brain stimulation in the context of clinical practice and biomedical research. We will survey current work involving deep brain stimulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation and transcranial direct current stimulation. We will reflect upon relevant similarities and differences between them, and consider some potentially problematic issues that may arise within the framework of established principles of medical ethics: nonmaleficence and beneficence, autonomy, and justice.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology
  • Deep Brain Stimulation / ethics*
  • Electric Stimulation*
  • Humans
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / ethics*