Once and Future Clinical Neuroethics: A History of What Was and What Might Be

Joseph J. Fins

The Journal of Clinical Ethics 30, no. 1 (Spring 2019): 27-34.

 

While neuroethics is generally thought to be a modern addition to the broader field of bioethics, this subdiscipline has existed in clinical practice throughout the course of the 20th century. In this essay, Fins describes an older tradition of clinical neuroethics that featured such physician-humanists as Sir William Osler, Wilder Penfield, and Fred Plum, whose work and legacy exploring disorders of consciousness is highlighted. Their normative work was clinically grounded and focused on the needs of patients, in contrast to modern neuroethics, which is more speculative and distant from the lived reality of the clinic. Using recent developments in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of consciousness, and the history of the vegetative and minimally conscious states, Fins asks why modern neuroethics has taken this turn and what can be done to restore clinical neuroethics to a more proportionate place in the field.

 

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