Research

My research in neuroethics is empirically-informed, and centers on the ethical analysis of current research in neurology and neuroscience. 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.


A number of important neuroscientific discoveries about disorders of consciousness (DOCs) in recent years call for a new ethics -- what I characterize as an ethics of uncertainty. My current project is a book manuscript in which I argue for a reframing and rethinking of the ethical discourse on disorders of consciousness in light of epistemic uncertainty. Since the 1970s, disorders of consciousness, and especially the vegetative state, have been a paradigmatic issue for bioethical inquiry, most frequently focused on questions concerning the continuation or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment. Much of this discourse assumes that we can know that persons in the vegetative state are not only unconscious, but permanently so. On this basis, the personhood and moral status of vegetative patients has frequently been challenged. Neuroscientific developments and investigations in the last decade have put this assumption in doubt, but the ethical discourse on disorders of consciousness has yet to fully reckon with the epistemic uncertainty of unconsciousness, or the normative and practical implications of that uncertainty. 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 sport-related neurotrauma. 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.


My other scholarly interests are film & philosophy, and animal ethics.