Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Happiness is...

... a warm electrode, according to modern science :)

The subject has been ill with depression for more than ten years, and did not respond to typical treatment such as drugs and ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). This DBS (Deep Brain Surgery) treatment implanted electrodes that deliver a small, regular jolt of electrical current to an area of the brain 'believed to be a key regulator of mood'. While similar treatment has been done on patients with Parkinson's disease by normalizing the 'activity in the basal ganglia and thalmus—which dictate motor control—thus reducing trembling limbs', this operation is believed to be the first to 'tackle depression'.

The article did briefly mention the ethical concern of allowing this treatment to be performed without much understanding of why the electrical pulses seem to be correlated to mood uplifting, and putting in a mechanical implant that may have to last many decades. The argument given in favor of this treatment is the seeming epidemic of depression; and how time is the enemy of depression patients, having caused many fatalities through suicide (11th leading cause of death in the US, this article says). Notably missing however, is a discussion on the implication of having this implant in a patient's head—both from the risk aspect of mechanical failure or poisoning or contamination, and unforeseen psychiatric & physiological side-effect, since this treatment only picked up in the 1990's, giving only a very brief period to study the safety and the efficacy of such medical treatment.

Also troubling in my opinion, is how happiness (albeit the author meant it with his tongue-in-cheek) has been reduced to a formula delivered through a set of physical treatment. It may not be too long before it is made available to anyone who feels the need of an extra dose of happiness. Lunchtime pick-me-up session anyone?

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