Who Holds the Clicker?

Medical science recently added another weapon to its arsenal for
treating psychological disorders,

Lauren Slater reports in Mother Jones
. Along with
behavioral therapy, pharmacological intervention, and electroshock
therapy, sufferers from depression and obsessive-compulsive
disorder may soon have the option of
Deep
Brain Stimulation
(DBS). Originally developed as a cure for the
shakes associated with Parkinson’s, DBS consists of electrode
implants that deliver low-voltage jolts to highly localized regions
of the brain. The

first major study concerning DBS and depression
yielded
promising results: of six patients treated, four went into complete
remission.

The implantation process resembles a cleaned-up relative of
lobotomies, the cousin we’d rather forget. As Slater explains,
holes are drilled into an awake patient’s head, electrodes are
lowered into place, wires are run to the battery (implanted just
under the clavicle), and the patient is sewn up. Once the swelling
goes down, the doctor turns the system on, incrementally adjusting
the current’s frequency and intensity in order to normalize brain
functions. Unlike antidepressants, where the patients must decide
to put the pill in their own mouths every day, DBS patients control
neither dosage nor administration. The patient may always opt out
of treatment, but DBS is a last-ditch effort, so giving up can mean
resigning oneself to a lifetime of depression.

Smiling from electrode to electrode, some patients see
salvation. Critics, however, look behind the gadgets and see the
looming specter of mind control, Slater writes. DBS’s beneficial
aspects are obvious — lives once bleak now blossom with hope —
but what is to stop the procedure from being used in the most
nefarious of ways? Its power to make you joyous and productive is
also its power to twist you into an enraged ruin of your former
self. Lobotomy was once imagined as a viable weapon against crime
and social deviance, but it left many people obviously
incapacitated. Might this invisible, nuanced procedure be the best
tool ever to fall into the worst of hands?
Nick Rose

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Who Holds the Clicker?

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