Thursday, September 1, 2011

Brain Implants In Wheelchair Users?

According to this article in CNN researchers are testing a robotic arm which will be controlled ONLY by thought. This is exciting news for many wheelchair users. The downside? They are going to do it by implanting electrdes in the BRAIN!

Starting next month, researchers at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Maryland and the University of Pittsburgh will begin testing on spinal cord injury patients whose brains have been implanted with a tiny (2mm by 2mm) electrode array.


While I am in favor of medical research which will help people with disabilities, I do not support medical research which involves brain surgery. Implanting anything in the brain opens up the subject to a variety of problems including infection. Infection can not only be deadly, it can cause further disabilities. And if the research is successful then what? People will be offered this technology only after having electrodes implanted in the brain? Sorry, I think that this goes much too far.

Of course, I am aware that many people with disabilities urgently need technology such. There are people with locked in syndrome that have no mobility at all and being able to control robots via thought would be HUGE. But there must be other ways of reading the brains intent without sticking an electrode in there. For example at University of Maryland, another university in the USA scientist are using brain cap technology to do basically the same thing, that is control a robot via thought. However, the brain cap goes on top of the head. Nothing is implanted. No surgery required. This is cool. This type of research is not only VERY exciting, it is much more ethical in my opinion.

Scientists always use the "end" to justify the "means" so long as it leads to another publication. We will certainly hear lots of stories about how this technology can help so many people. But who will take responsibility when it goes wrong?

Would you agree to have a research scientist implant an electrode inside of your head?

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you. The conspiracy theorists could have a field day with this - mind control by a malevolent government!!

    Also there's the whole disabled pride thing. Of course nobody wants to be disabled, but disabled is what a lot of us are, and while it doesn't define us, it's still an important part of who we are. There's been a lot of ethical debate about whether women should have "terminations" when they are told they are bearing a handicapped child - ask many disabled people what they think about this and most of them will say they were glad that option wasn't around when they were in their mother's wombs.

    If there's suddenly an option to make you "not disabled" any more, and you choose not to have it, will you be discriminated against? There's enough discrimination against disabled people anyway without adding guilt onto them for not doing everything in their power to be made "normal."

    This is already happening in the M.E. community, especially here in the UK - the Ministry of Health has conducted flawed clinical trials of certain "treatments" that are supposed to make us better but which in fact are either useless or make us worse, and there's been a lot of rubbish in the press about it recently, and people are being condemned for not accepting this "treatment" and not accepting the propaganda that what they are suffering from is a psychiatric disorder, when there is ample biomedical research evidence to the contrary.

    I am in favour of any technology within reason that makes people's quality of life better and enables them to do more and be more independent, but personally, I would like to see more education, and more acceptance of people whatever they look like, and whatever their abilities may be.

    I don't want anything stuck in my brain, thanks very much. It's foggy enough already!!

    By the way, I've just re-blinged my wheelchair for the autumn. Hop over to my blog and have a look at today's post.

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