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Ethical Dilemmas

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Jonas Gerrig sat on the tan colored couch in the newspaper office, anxiously waiting for the newspaper reporter to start the interview.  He fidgeted back and forth while the man assembled his background information.  The 73 year old chemist and licensed medical physician didn’t like the idea of being interviewed by a novice, non-technical reporter but it was important for him to get his story out to the public.  With advancing non-operable pancreatic cancer, Gerrig had only months left in his distinguished life.  His research needed to be documented in various news sources so that his work on intelligence amplification could be continued.

“Are you comfortable Dr. Gerrig?”  The young reporter was finally ready for the interview.

“Yes.  Please start the interview,” replied Gerrig as he settled down on the couch.

“Well, I don’t know exactly where to begin.  Your career is so distinguished.  Work in the academic work, followed by a long career as a physician, and now your fundamental research into brain function at the Cerebral Enhancement Institute.  You have had a varied career.”

“Much of my past has already been written about.  I would suggest focusing the interview on my current work at CEI.”

“Of course.  A great suggestion.”  The young news reporter seemed overly eager to please Gerrig.  So why not take advantage of that and direct the interview to what he needed to have written?  Gerrig could be manipulative when the situation allowed for it.

The young reporter cleared his throat and started the interview process.  “Dr. Gerrig, after a total of 28 years as a neurology physician, you have decided to leave medicine and to move into basic brain function research.  Why the change back to a more academic work focus?”

Gerrig fidgeted as he pulled together his thoughts.  “Well Jim, I just decided that I needed to direct my focus and efforts on some fundamental areas of neurology that we currently have shortfalls.  Areas such as brain function recovery after accidents and mental augmentation for people affected by different developmental brain function problems.”

“Brain function issues such as cerebral damage from car accidents or brain developmental issues such as cognitive impairment or maybe the onset of dementia?”

Gerrig smiled.  The reporter appeared to have researched his bio page on the CEI website.  His comments were a carbon copy of Gerrig’s listed research interests.

“Yes, that is correct.  But my interests go even further than those general areas.”

The reporter nodded as if on cue.  “Such as getting FDA approval for Dyclojasperdine?”

Gerrig’s smile broadened.  Dyclojasperdine was part of a multi-drug “cocktail” that Gerrig had developed 4 years earlier.  Officially, the drug was to treat mild cognitive impairment.  At least, that was how the drug application to the FDA read.  But Gerrig envisioned possible use of the drug in the area of intelligence amplification.  It was his pet project and one that operated as a “skunk works” at the Cerebral Enhancement Institute.

“Dyclojasperdine has promise in many areas of neurology.  Its approval from the FDA is something that I hope will come shortly.  We really need this type of drug for many different neurological uses.”

“Possibly more than the uses cited in the FDA application?”

Gerrig squirmed as he thought about the question.  How open should he be with the man?

“Can we go off record for a moment?”

The reporter’s eyes got big as he pondered what Gerrig might say.  “Of course, Dr. Gerrig.  Let’s consider all comments made from this point onward as being off record until you decide that you would like to resume the interview.”

Gerrig cleared his throat and began to talk.  “OK.  Well, our early experiments with Dyclojasperdine derivatives have shown promise in enhancing brain function in mammals that already have normal brain function.  The effect we have seen is called intelligence amplification.  We believe that Dyclojasperdine derivatives longer term can offer more opportunities than the  limited FDA application we have made for just Dyclojasperdine itself.”

“Dyclojasperdine derivatives?  I am confused Dr. Gerrig.  What exactly are you talking about?”

Gerrig’s eyes looked around the newspaper office to see how private their conversation would be.  Convinced that no one was listening to them, he decided to continue.

“One of the derivative drugs of Dyclojasperdine is a material called Diethylcaptone.  Diethylcaptone is a central nervous system stimulant which was first studied back in 1957.   The drug was used in combination with other stimulants by Dr. Ewen Cameron of the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal, Canada to investigate the treatment of mental issues such as schizophrenia.  The promising results seen in Cameron’s early work were never pursued and the full value of this class of medication has never been achieved.  We think that was an oversight and we want to make it available for certain medical uses.”

Jim Harrington’s eyes darted around the room as he listened to Gerrig’s story.  The young news reporter was astonished by what he was hearing.

“Dr. Gerrig.  Some of Ewen Cameron’s work involved conducting experiments for the CIA as part of the MKULTRA project on mind control.  His work focused on depatterning the brain, essentially erasing the patient mind, and then repopulating the brain with new memories to change the person’s character and behavior.  His work is considered unethical.  How can you conduct work of this type?”

Gerrig cleared his throat once again and continued.  “I am well aware of the ethical questions surrounding Cameron’s work.  While I don’t endorse how he conducted the work, I do embrace many of the results he obtained.  Positive results that can help science move forward.”

Harrington shook his head and responded.  “Your trials have examined possible impacts on mammals.  They cannot talk to you so the observations you have of ‘intelligence amplification’ is speculative at best.  Without human trials, you have no proof of your theory that this drug derivative can create the cognitive enhancements you hope for.”

Gerrig smiled once again.  He had under estimated the young reporter.  Jim Harrington was technically smarter than he had thought.

“Correct.  That is why an initial human trial will start next week.”

“What?  You don’t have FDA approval for such a trial.  How can you possibly conduct one?”

Gerrig looked around before answering.  “The trial will be a single subject trial, using a person who consents to the risks.”

The reporter looked up at Gerrig from his notebook.  “Are you telling me that you will be the subject?”

“Yes.”

“Why?  Why take this risk.”

“Jim, I am dying.  At best, I have 3-4 months left to live.  This work is important, it’s critical.  If we wait for FDA approval, important time will be lost.  I can’t allow that to happen.”

Both men sat in silence for a few moments which ended up feeling like hours to Jim Harrington.  The young reporter still could not believe what he was hearing.  He looked up at Gerrig, expecting the scientist to tell him that this was all a joke.  But the man continued to look at him seriously.

With that, Gerrig rose from the couch and shook the reporter’s hand.  “Don’t go to press with this interview until we have a second session.  I want to meet with you again after the first week of treatments have been completed.  Will you grant me that request?”

The reporter was shocked but nodded to show his consent to the request.  Then, as if in a dazzle, he stood up and shook Gerrig’s hand.  With that, the old man left the office.

 

Epilogue

Tears streamed down from Jim Harrington’s eyes as he read the obituary in the morning paper.  It had been 4 days since he had talked with Jonas Gerrig about the potential of Dyclojasperdine  derivative drugs as possible nervous system stimulants.  The second interview session with Gerrig would never occur.  The old man had died of sudden heart failure, ironically a risk factor that would later be formally linked with the potential use of Diethylcaptone.

 

 

The End

 

Author’s Bio: Tom Schmidt is a Chemical Engineer working in medical diagnostics in upstate New York.  He enjoys creative writing and has been published on www.short-story.me in the past.  He is currently working on the “Paul Garigan Crime Mysteries”, a collection of short stories centered around a Malibu based police detective which he hopes to publish in the future.

 

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