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China Medicine Science

China's Controversial Brain Surgery To Cure Drug Addiction 385

kkleiner writes "A small handful of doctors in China are using a highly controversial procedure to rid people of drug addiction by destroying a part of patients' brains. The procedure involves drilling small holes into the skulls of patients and inserting long electrodes that destroy a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This area, often referred to as the "pleasure center" of the brain, is the major nucleus of the brain's reward circuit. Is it worth being cured of addiction if, losing the addiction, we also lose part of who we are?" The practice has been officially banned, but apparently continues nonetheless.
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China's Controversial Brain Surgery To Cure Drug Addiction

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  • by BoRegardless ( 721219 ) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @08:51PM (#42429249)

    Couldn't control his drug issues. His birth mother was addicted.

    Now he is gone. Would he have been better served to still be here w/o some "reward center". I don't know. I will never know.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 30, 2012 @08:54PM (#42429269)

    When it comes to a real problem a change in personality wouldn't be such a problem, but losing dopamine forever? Never to feel positive emptions again ever? I don't care who you are that's not worth it. Surely the reason people get addicted to begin with is they don't have enough dopamine and serotonin in their life for whatever reason.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 30, 2012 @09:14PM (#42429419)

    Would he have wanted to live if he never found any joy in living ever again?

  • by tiqui ( 1024021 ) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @09:15PM (#42429421)

    Are you truly who you think you are when you are addicted to drugs?

    Are the pleasures a drug-affected brain feels to be equated with other forms of pleasure?

    It would be one thing to wipe-out part of a healthy brain (thereby permanently altering it) like this but it might be another matter to make such a permanent change to a brain that has already had permanent, and negative, changes made by "modern chemistry". Of course, the presence of any pre-existing damage from drugs also raises questions of true consent. Not sure how I feel on this one, but given that this is on brains already affected by drugs the morals and ethics are a bit cloudier than they might otherwise be. Personally, I find the idea of depriving a person of the ability to experience pleasure both creepy and dangerous. Should we expect future headlines about "zombie" violence in China?

  • by Velex ( 120469 ) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @09:21PM (#42429481) Journal

    Never being able to feel satisfied again? Who the hell would want to live like that? Jesus. At least I was only circumcised so that I'd only feel pain from just my genitals and never pleasure. If my whole world were that way... christ, the things people like you would wish on other people is frightening.

    How much moralizing did your friend have to put up with that only drove him to be more addicted rather than accepting he's addicted and choosing treatment. How much stigma was associated with "being committed" in his mind? For that matter, how many shitty, controlling people were in his life that he needed to escape into a drug. For that matter, WHAT drug. Alcohol? Cocaine? Cough syrup? Meth? Heroin? Weed? Ah, I see, it was just... drugs. Because every one I just listed is exactly the same.

    At least in the mind of a puritan. I know people who moralize about using tylenol. I'm not kidding. I don't know if that's you, but come on.

    If you haven't already, go read I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.

  • by retchdog ( 1319261 ) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @09:32PM (#42429573) Journal

    Dr. John Adler, professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Stanford University, collaborated with the Chinese researchers on the publication and is listed as a co-author. While he does not advocate the surgery and did not perform it, he believes it can provide valuable information about how the nucleus accumbens works, and how best to attempt to manipulate it. “I do think it’s worth learning from,” he says. ” As far as I’m concerned, ablation of the nucleus accumbens makes no sense for anyone. There’s a very high complication rate. [But] reporting it doesn’t mean endorsing it. While we should have legitimate ethical concerns about anything like this, it is a bigger travesty to put our heads in the sand and not be willing to publish it,” he says. cite [].

  • A natural experiment (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 30, 2012 @09:37PM (#42429605)

    From the time I was 12 until the time I was 48, I spent most of every day thinking about sex, and wanting it desperately, and sometimes even getting it. Then one day my sex drive...faded. I couldn't get it up any more, I couldn't get it off any more, and underneath all that, I didn't care about it so much any more. That incessant, gnawing hunger was gone.

    I miss it terribly.

    I've been to my doctors, and they've poked and prodded, and run this test and that test, and prescribed this pill and that pill, and with time and the right pills, some of it has come back, but it's not like it used to be.

    I never got all that much sex, but it turns out that wanting it, and sometimes getting it, was a big part of what kept me going. Now that it isn't there, I've had to rethink some pretty basic things, like why I get up in the morning, and why I bother to do my job, given that I can't get what I really want any more.

  • by justin12345 ( 846440 ) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @09:56PM (#42429719)
    No need to Godwin yourself. Checkout what the Canadians were up to (with a little funding from the CIA): []
  • by Velex ( 120469 ) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @10:00PM (#42429743) Journal

    Yes, something did go horribly wrong. Unfortunately, nobody's cared to understand non-obvious failure modes of that procedure. So, nobody thought that anything could go wrong when they decided to do it, at least not anything non-obvious that can not be corrected by further surgery. It didn't stop it from going wrong, though.

    In fact, when I started estrogen HRT (I'm transgendered) I asked my doctor about it just to make sure I wasn't making some awful mistake. His theory was that it was only because it seemed that my brain was female, and he postulated that a female brain might not, to put it in slashdot speak, have the proper device driver for it all to work right. Unfortunately, nobody told my doctor that what happened to me is possible. I'm not even sure I'm faulting circumcision correctly, but what I do know is what I feel, that I'm circumcised, that problem is with the same body part involved in that, and that no other trans person I've met can corroborate my experience. (I would likely still be transgendered and seek estrogen HRT even intact--I believe that because there are intact trans women and I can't figure out what difference it would make anyway in that matter.)

    What do I do about it, though? I guess I have to wait until they can grow me a new one from stem cells and replace it. I'm SOL in the meantime. Fortunately, I found other ways to satisfy myself, so all's not lost. I just may never be successful in giving my parents grandchildren.

    I'm comparing this to circumcision to hopefully make readers think. Some may agree with circumcision but disagree with this brain surgery and vice-versa.

    I only meant to raise the question of what can possibly go wrong and is it worth it to risk the occasional disaster when something less invasive and traumatic, like relaxed drug laws and treatment, might solve the problem just as well or even better.

  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @10:01PM (#42429747)

    They did work out well in the past. It's easy to call treatments of the past barbaric without perspective. Often those treated with labotomies would have spent the rest of their lives in strait jackets or worse if not for the treatment. If your drug addiction is going to kill you in the next 6 months is this treatment really that terrible? Granted, governments always take this sort of thing too far "he's addicted to MMOs!" etc...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 30, 2012 @10:10PM (#42429807)

    21st Century Lobotomies are mostly pharmacological and some are just as irreversible as the surgical.

  • by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @11:26PM (#42430233) Homepage Journal

    This is possibly the single worst thing that the Nazis did. They turned the world away from eugenics, because they were so cold hearted and calloused toward an entire race.

    In and of itself, eugenics is a good thing. I would love to see it advanced. The research could lead to the cures for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, possibly even make our entire race stronger and smarter. The possibilities are endless.

    But, because eugenics were so horrible abused by one group of people, against another group of people, we refuse to even look down that road.

    I don't suppose that science will advance on that frontier unless and until a significant portion of mankind has left mother earth. I just hope that by then, the researchers haven't forgotten the atrocities committed by the nazis. The memories must be preserved, or mankind risks repeating those same atrocities.

  • by Ira Sponsible ( 713467 ) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @11:42PM (#42430311) Journal

    Explain the reelection of George W. Bush and Barack Obama then.

    In the last few elections, it's been worse than just picking the lesser of two evils. It's more like having to choose between Satan and Cthulu. You know you're screwed either way. One will only corrupt you and steal your soul, the other one will drive you insane, turn you into a gibbering eldritch abomination and unravel the fabric of reality. I voted for the minor third party candidate Kodos. Who did you vote for?

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @12:34AM (#42430529) Homepage

    They did work out well in the past. It's easy to call treatments of the past barbaric without perspective.

    Not to mention the basic ideas of lobotomy are very much alive, I knew a guy with very severe epilepsy attacks. I think the surgery he had was something like this:

    Multiple subpial transaction

    This is used when it's not possible to remove the part of the brain that's causing the seizures. The surgeon will make a series of cuts to help separate the damaged part of the brain from the surrounding area. This stops seizures from moving from one part of the brain to other parts of the brain.

    He was in his 30s and that enabled him to finally move out of his parent's house, get a bit of education and a driver's license. It didn't come without downsides but overall he was much, much better off than before.

  • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @01:15AM (#42430663)

    Well, in this case, the patient is just doing it to themselves depending on the situation.

    What I understand about meth and brain chemistry is that over time a meth addict is saturating the pleasure center of their brain. The structures that pick up the neurotransmitters actually become damaged or less effective over time.

    This is why a lot of meth addicts will say the only way they can feel happiness is with the drug. Recovered meth addicts often complain that they have very serious issues feeling happy anymore.

    How long that takes to heal, I dunno.

    The end result of disabling the pleasure center may be inevitable. At least doing it in the beginning may be a way to get them stop completely and literally save their lives and increase the overall quality from a health standpoint alone. They may become emotionless, but can still live otherwise.

    Just my two cents. I'm not a doctor. Just know some very unfortunate recovered drug addicts that have more in common with Vulcans now than humans.

  • by disambiguated ( 1147551 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @02:09AM (#42430849)
    I'm not in favor of forced sterilization, but at least the person would have other reasons to go on living.

    But I must be missing something here, because shouldn't the question be:

    Is it worth it to cure addiction if you utterly destroy everything that makes life worth living?

    How could any rational person think this is a good idea?

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