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Consciousness Unbound

Thursday, 2 May 2019, 4 – 5:30pm

Consciousness Unbound

A paper by Prof Charles Weijer (Western University) as part of the Neurohumanities Lecture Series.

Register here.
Consciousness unbound: the ethics of neuroimaging after serious brain injury

Severe brain injury is a major cause of disability and death. In the hours and days after brain injury, families may be faced with the decision whether to continue life-sustaining therapy. 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? And can neuroimaging communication be used to give patient a voice in medical decision-making? An innovative collaboration between neuroscientists and philosophers at Western University provides some answers to these vexing questions.

Charles Weijer is Professor in the Departments of Philosophy, Medicine, and Epidemiology and Biostatistics and holds the Canada Research Chair in Bioethics at Western University in London, Canada. He is the leading expert on the ethics of randomized controlled trials. Publications on the duty of care in clinical research, the ethical analysis of study benefits and harms, and empowering communities in research have been broadly influential. From 2008–2013 Charles co-led a collaboration that produced the first international ethics guidelines for cluster randomized trials. Since 2014, he has collaborated with Dr. Adrian M. Owen on a project exploring the ethics of functional neuroimaging after severe brain injury. Charles’ current work explores ethical issues in pragmatic randomized controlled trials that evaluate health interventions in real-world conditions to better inform patients, health providers and health systems managers. This project, co-led with Drs. Monica Taljaard and Dean Fergusson and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (2017–2021), brings together a research team comprising philosophers, biostatisticians and trialists from five countries. In 2008, Charles founded the Rotman Institute of Philosophy, which is dedicated to fostering collaboration between the humanities and the sciences, and served as the Institute’s first director. In 2014, he received Western’s Hellmuth Prize for Achievement in Research, and, in 2016, he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada.

Campus LocationScience Gallery
Accessibility: Yes
Room: Paccar Theatre
Event Type: Conferences, Lectures and Seminars
Type of Event: One-time event
Audience: Undergrad, Postgrad, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Public
Cost: Free (but registration is required)

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