The vulnerability of patients receiving significantly innovative neurosurgical procedures, either as research or as non-standard therapy, presents particularly potent challenges for those attempting to substantially advance clinical Neurosurgical practice in the most ethically and efficacious manner. This beginning formulation has built into it several important notions about research participation, balancing values, and clinical advancement in the context of neurological illness. For the time being, allow vulnerability to act as a placeholder for circumstances or states of being wherein the established checks and balances of power and interest are no longer sufficient in promoting the just treatment of persons. Further, the phrase to substantially advance Neurosurgical practice encompasses radical innovation as well as significant research into new procedures. Finally, few of these explorations involve true randomized placebo controlled trials, but rather they enroll patients rightfully hoping for some benefit by means of undergoing the procedure.
When a neurosurgeon asks me, as an ethicist, to meet with a patient who has medically refractory disease and no good standard therapy options remaining, he is asking for help concerning whether to offer, as a last chance, an unproven therapy as either innovation or research.