Locked-In Syndrome

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Photo credited to: http://espaciocritico7.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/balanceando-entre-la-vida-y-la-muerte-en-estado-de-coma/

Another use of Brain-Computer Interface technology that is in high debate is communicating with patients diagnosed with “locked-in syndrome.” Locked-in syndrome is a condition where a person’s mind is working to full capacity, but they cannot move any of their body parts (i.e. they are “locked-in” their own body). BCI technology could be used to communicate with these people by reading their brainwaves. This is potentially useful because often times it is questionable whether or not to continue treatment on these patients, and BCI could be a way to find out.

The issue with this use is that doctors would need the patients’ consent before implementing this technology to communicate with them, and they obviously cannot give consent in their state, causing a catch-22. Some suggest the idea of using BCI at first just to see if they consent to it or not, then acting accordingly, but then other issues arise. Since the technology is still in more basic stages of development, we do not know the results of using it on people. There is a privacy barrier that could potentially be crossed by using a device to read someone’s thoughts without their consent. Furthermore, we do not know if the brainwaves that are being read are the accurate thoughts of the patient, or just subconscious brainwaves that are still active in their state.

Questions to ask yourself regarding Locked-In Patients:

Who should get to decide if BCI is used on locked-in patients?

Is it an invasion of privacy to read the brainwaves of locked-in patients?

Can we trust the results of BCI technology with someone’s life?

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