Bioethicist, Neuroethicist, Philosopher

    Assistant Professor of Philosophy
    Adjunct Professor of Kinesiology & Integrative Physiology
    Michigan Technological University

    I'm a neuroethicist/bioethicist/philosopher at Michigan Technological University, where I teach ethics and bioethics, and hold down the neuroethics fort in the snowy wilderness of northern Michigan. Prior to my appointment at Tech, I was a Research Fellow in Neuroethics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and received my PhD in philosophy from SUNY Albany.

    My research in neuroethics is empirically-oriented, and involves the ethical analysis of current research in the neurological and cognitive sciences. My work  has two primary foci: (1) the ethical implications of new developments related to disorders of consciousness (e.g. vegetative states and minimally conscious states), and (2) sport-related concussion and neurotrauma.

    In my work on disorders of consciousness (DOCs), I am especially interested in the problem of conceptualizing quality of life in persons who lack the capacity to communicate or evaluate their own subjective well-being. The matter of withdrawing life support for persons with DOCs has given rise to decades of legal and ethical controversy, but it is also a source of anguished debate for families faced with making life or death decisions on behalf of loved ones. Frequently fueling debate are implicit assumptions about the value of life in a state of impaired consciousness, and a large source of discomfort about what to do for the DOC patient is persistent uncertainty about the quality of life of these patients, as well as the burdens and benefits of treatment, life support, and research participation. My research draws on work being done in the neurosciences, as well as bioethics, to reconceive of quality of life in  patients with DOCs. My aim is to problematize current approaches to quality of life assessment, as well as research and treatment priorities in DOCs, and to reevaluate our preconceptions about what life is like for persons with DOCs in light of what is known about other brain injury survivors. This work has implications for several core problems in bioethics, including ethics at the end-of-life, the justification of research on vulnerable populations, and surrogate decision making. This work has potentially broad application to other vulnerable groups, including persons with dementia, infants, children, individuals with profound cognitive disabilities, and non-human animals. 

    My second area of research explores the ethical dimensions of neurotrauma resulting from sport-related concussion, in both youth and adult athletes. Sport-related concussion has been a subject of intense public and media interest in recent years, but it has been largely neglected as a topic of bioethical and neuroethical concern. The ethicist has much to contribute to the conversation on sport-related concussion, as there are significant ethical issues (e.g. justifying the risks of sport-related brain injuries; concerns about informed consent, autonomy, and decision-making; conflicts of interest for “team doctors”) that arise in the context of these injuries. This area of research is one where there is excellent potential for interacting with the media and the public, which accords well with my pedagogical mission of enhancing bioethical literacy. I have been a vocal advocate for radical, neuroprotective reforms in youth sports such as football and hockey, and think one of the important roles of bioethicists is to stir up debate about health-related issues of importance to the public. This fall, I am co-editing a special issue of the journal Neuroethics on "Concussion & mTBI: Ethical Issues" (see sidebar link for CFP), in an effort to generate broader and more sustained ethical interest in this important issue.

    My other areas of research in bioethics include issues in reproductive genetics, biomedical research with pregnant women, and the role of public bioethicists in guiding and informing public discourse on issues of bioethical importance.

    An additional area of scholarly interest is film and philosophy, and the use of popular films as teaching tools in philosophy. As a former film critic and longtime cinephile, I'm interested in the way that philosophically intriguing questions are represented in pop culture, as well as the pedagogical potential of cinematic thought experiments.