As a new clinical ethicist in training, I’m allowed to take some looks in the metaphorical kitchen of the hospital where things really happen: seeing research and treatment in practice. This is an amazing experience, as I always thought of myself in the court room (my primary degree is in law) and I had never pictured myself in an operating room. Thanks to all the compassionate and generous physicians in this hospital, who allow me to peek in their kitchen (as long as I don’t function as the ethics police), I get an understanding of the difference between the ivory tower of academic (bio) medical ethics and the real ethical issues of the work floor.
Not too long ago I observed a WADA test in the epilepsy department. The WADA test is used to establish where language and memory are located in the brain; in which hemisphere do these capacities ‘reside’. (When we think simplistically and typically, a right-handed individual has memory and language on the left side of the brain, but there are a lot of exceptions and mixed brains). During the WADA test, doctors try to mimic a stroke of the brain; while the patient is awake, one hemisphere is temporarily sedated (around 2 minutes) and a series of tests are done to see how the patient memorizes and describes objects, based on the functioning of only 1 side of the brain. Subsequently, the other hemisphere is sedated and a similar test is performed. These tests are done, for example, to assess what would happen if a particular part of the brain is surgically removed; i.e. the area that contains the origin of the epileptic episodes.
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