Informed Consent in Implantable BCI Research: Identifying Risks and Exploring Meaning

Sci Eng Ethics. 2016 Oct;22(5):1299-1317. doi: 10.1007/s11948-015-9712-7. Epub 2015 Oct 23.


Implantable brain-computer interface (BCI) technology is an expanding area of engineering research now moving into clinical application. Ensuring meaningful informed consent in implantable BCI research is an ethical imperative. The emerging and rapidly evolving nature of implantable BCI research makes identification of risks, a critical component of informed consent, a challenge. In this paper, 6 core risk domains relevant to implantable BCI research are identified-short and long term safety, cognitive and communicative impairment, inappropriate expectations, involuntariness, affective impairment, and privacy and security. Work in deep brain stimulation provides a useful starting point for understanding this core set of risks in implantable BCI. Three further risk domains-risks pertaining to identity, agency, and stigma-are identified. These risks are not typically part of formalized consent processes. It is important as informed consent practices are further developed for implantable BCI research that attention be paid not just to disclosing core research risks but exploring the meaning of BCI research with potential participants.

Keywords: Brain–computer interface (BCI); Deep brain stimulation (DBS); Informed consent; Neuroethics; Research ethics; Safety.

MeSH terms

  • Brain-Computer Interfaces / ethics*
  • Electrodes, Implanted / ethics
  • Ethics, Research*
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent*
  • Risk