Consciousness Unbound

The Ethics of Neuroimaging After Severe Brain Injury

October 25, 2016 12:30-2 pm
TMEC 227 
Harvard Medical School
260 Longwood Ave
Boston, MA 02115

Severe brain injury is a major cause of disability and death. Patients who survive may emerge into a vegetative or minimally conscious state in which they are incapable of meaningful communication. Recent advances in neuroimaging cast a new light on behaviorally non-responsive patients after brain injury. Functional MRI is now being used in the research setting to map residual cognitive function in brain-injured patients, including the ability to process speech, comprehend language, and follow commands. In a few cases, neuroimaging has allowed for communication with otherwise unresponsive patients. This research raises difficult ethical issues:

  • Should research results be shared with families? 
  • What does neuroimaging data tell us about our moral obligations to brain-injured patients?
  • Can it provide clues as to the quality of their lives? 
  • Can neuroimaging communication be used to give patient a voice in medical decision-making?

An innovative collaboration between neuroscientists and philosophers at Western University is beginning to provide answers to these vexing questions.

Panelists:

Thomas I. Cochrane, MD
Assistant Professor of Neurology
Harvard Medical School

Charles Weijer, MD, PhD
Professor, Canada Research Chair in Bioethics
Professor, Department of Philosophy, Medicine (joint)
Western University

Moderator:

Spencer Hey, PhD
Faculty, Harvard Center for Bioethics