"Removing Brain Cells from a Living Person" is a great example of a paper on medical ethics. Taking a sample of someone’ s brain while he or she is still alive on the surface sounds so utterly wrong that medical science should never even consider the possibility, correct? After all, the time has ingrained society’ s view of anybody “ messing” with the human brain as the work of a mad person. Rightly so perhaps, as such things as drilling holes in people’ s heads, and lobotomies to “ cure” mental illnesses, were medical procedures done in the not-so-distant past. The entertainment industry has done its part to put the image of the mad scientist doing bizarre experiments on the human brain firmly into public view. Doctor Frankenstein is just one example of a physician whose mind is twisted enough to think he could bring a dead subject to life; Doctor Jekyll is another, yet there have been dozens of other books and movies about the subject. The subject is even approached with humor, as at the end of Ghostbusters, when members of the team ask Rick Moranis’ character for a sample of his brain tissue and he agrees! But Star Trek was mistaken when it proclaimed space was the final frontier. No, that would be the brain. After all, scientists know little more about the functions of the brain than they did three centuries ago when they still bled people for every illness. Why do we think? Why do humans alone have the ability to speak? Doctors know the various regions of the brain and generally where certain functions are controlled (such as speech being part of two different regions of the brain, the Broca and Wernicke areas).
They also generally agree that lack of brain activity (brain death) is a good reason for termination of life, even though the heart and lungs are still functioning with the aid of machinery. Still, the mysteries of the brain to this day have science and the general populace alike baffled. Think about it, among all other specialties, the brain surgeon is held in awe and respect, almost as if he is more intelligent and better schooled than his peers. This is even though such specialties as cardiology require training just as intense and their surgeries are just as delicate. Discussion Injuries and illnesses affecting the brain (such as strokes and head trauma) have allowed science a peek into the brain. For instance, a stroke causes massive bleeding in a certain area of the brain. I say a person’ s speech is affected or certain parts of her face suffer paralysis, doctors can narrow down a certain area of the brain and say for almost certainty that function takes place in that region. Due to the complications from the stroke, the function no longer operates correctly. Well, what if that generality was confined to a specific area? What if the surgeon was able to repair that damaged place with either cadaver or artificial means because he knew what to repair? It might sound far-fetched but no more so than angioplasty and coronary bypass did to Americans as late as World War II. We think of these procedures as routine but both have only been around since the sixties. By the same token, people in the twenty-second century might find it ludicrous that we called an individual brain dead when all they were suffering from could be cured with a simple surgery. Scientists are experimenting in laboratories daily trying desperately to find relief for people whose lives are a test of their capability of endurance. A dive into a swimming pool, a car wreck, and a fall is all instances of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) where somebody’ s life was changed radically in an instant. He or she went from an active person full of vigor to someone who is either vegetative or confined to a wheelchair with loss of memory and thought processes. With moderate to severe TBI, little can be done other than to hope for miraculous healing, although the miracles are seldom forthcoming (Saatman). Illnesses also do their part to destroy the quality of someone’ s life. Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, stokes, aneurysms, Alzheimer’ s, and even tumors are all malfunctions of the brain which can destroy someone’ s functions and oftentimes kill them. Science knows genetics plays a great part in illnesses to what extent? Why does X have MS when nobody in his family has ever had it? Why does Y die from Alzheimer’ s in his sixties, when his identical twin is healthy and disease-free well into his eighties? Also, mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorders are mostly a mystery as to why and how. Science has at least been able to invent medications to alleviate the symptoms but the cure is still elusive for most brain ailments. Much controversy has been generated over stem cell research and its moral consequences. If that much negative publicity can be caused by overusing aborted embryonic cells, including a presidential ban, think about what furor using samples from live people. Special interest groups like major religions would come out with guns blazing, especially for research concerning the brain. Some people consider the brain to be the epicenter for the spirit (soul) and their deity would never allow mankind to become very knowledgeable about the mind’ s workings. Politicians, always worried about John Q’ s voting opinion would flatly deny funding for such research. All those above who have been afflicted would be more than willing to contribute their samples if it meant they or somebody else would not have to endure the tortures of brain illness. Not only them but their family member's and caregivers’ quality of life suffers due to TBI and disease. People have to readjust schedules to often care for their loved ones 24 hours a day. True it is a labor of love but day in and day out can be taxing on anybody. Not only that but the cost of TBI alone is over $48 billion annually in the United States, a huge burden often carried by the American taxpayer through such programs as Medicaid (UIC). That is fine, for the afflicted person’ s tissue would be a great milestone for which scientists could base their research. Yet they would need another base, a healthy subject willing to submit that minute portion of his brain. True at the time it would have to be invasive surgery that is without a doubt some of the most dangerous. One slip or an error in the scientist’ s calculations could render the subject also vegetative or even dead. That would generally rule out the researcher’ s most valuable tool, the broke Ramen-eating college student needing a few bucks. But there is another pool of people who might be willing to take that risk. What about those who are terminal with other diseases not affecting the brain. After all, those with lung cancer are still mentally sharp up until death. True they might be more susceptible to death during the procedure but they might be especially keen on volunteering for the brain sample research, especially if the money was there to ensure their loved ones were taken care of after their death. Also, convicts on death row have been known to want to donate organs, as a sort of penance for their crimes against society. They might also volunteer for the research. This may sound Orwellian but you never know. One president banned stem cell research and his successor overturned that ban. Also, at least three celebrities have made brain research in the forefront. Chris Reeve, Superman, in his epic decade-long struggle with paralysis, was an advocate for stem cell research, and his widow continues the fight to this day, seven years after his death. Michael J Fox whom everybody remembers as the vibrant and athletic young man has fought a twenty-year battle with Parkinson’ s and now puts the same vitality he did in his film career into finding a cure for his disease and others of the CNS. Even one of the most brilliant scientists of our age, Stephen Hawking, could not stop the onset and devastation of ALS, also referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease, after the famous baseball player. Conclusion Maybe not in any of our lifetimes but eventually medical science will find a cure for brain illness and injury. It is not creepy, it doesn’ t break God’ s laws, and it definitely isn’ t immoral. Just like with any other human frailty, those suffering from afflictions deserve the best of what the 21st century has to offer.
Saatman et al, Classification of Traumatic Brain Injury for Targeted Therapies, July 25, 2008 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2721779/?tool=pmcentrez
UIC, University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Cognitive Medicine, accessed November 1, 2011, http://ccm.psych.uic.edu/PatientInfo/TBIInfo.aspx