Monday, April 16, 2007


I was rummaging through a box of old books (me and hubby read a lot), and I came across a novel that I had read back in highschool. "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes. Believe it or not, I liked it so much, I bought myself a copy after graduation. I love books that make me think.

For those of you not familiar with this story, it is based on the character Charlie Gordon, a middle-aged mentally retarded man who undergoes a brain operation to enhance his IQ. He becomes the first human being to undergo this procedure, after the successful intellectual enchancement of a mouse named Algernon. This book is done from the point of view of Charlie, and is written from his starting IQ (just under 60). It's just amazing how the author starts writing the book like a child and then morphs throughout into a man that has well above-average intelligence. I won't spoil the ending, in case anyone wants to read it for themselves.

The point of my post isn't to start a book club though (LOL), but rather to shed some light on the idea of surgically altered intelligence. Mainly; if it could be done, should it? When this book was first written in the 1960's, it actually caused a lot of controversy as being immorale (obviously this is totally fictional writing). But it did get me started on thinking about my own child. Although we are quite certain Kierra doesn't suffer from any degree of mental retardation, if we could alter her brain to make her a typical child, would we do it? Honestly, this is a tough one to field. As a parent, you would do just about anything to help your child maximize their full potential. On the other hand, who am I (even as a parent) to make such a call? Would it be worth all the risks for the possible gain? Who is to say her full potential is not for her to realize without my interference? Doesn't it change the very essence of the person I gave birth to? It's a very conflicted scenario.

I would have to say that I don't think I deserve to have the gull to make such a call. What makes me worthy of having the power to say who should be "fixed" in society? For that matter, what gives anyone that power? Just because you aren't part of the intellectual norm, it doesn't mean you are any less of a person or that your thoughts, as limited as they may be, aren't important. I've heard social workers say before that the handicapped are among the happiness people you'll ever meet; so full of enjoyment for life. How can you argue with that logic? Besides, it's my opinion that you can't judge another person's quality of life if you have never been in their shoes. And you certainly can't judge it based on what your own expectations for your own life are. Feeling sorry for someone with limited social skills or intelligence shouldn't be the basis of tinkering with their brains. As a parent with a disabled child, it bothers me a great deal that people think they need to feel sorry for my daughter; or that she would be a good candidate for being re-programmed so she can be a "productive" member of society. Obviously, I'm for therapeutic measures that can help her socialize with others, and feel included. There is a different between learning to live with your limitations, and eliminating them all together.

So I guess this topic I broached can spark a debate of sorts. I'd love to hear whatever you have to say about this. After all, what good comes out of thinking about something if you don't have other opinions to challenge your own?


Anonymous said...

Goodness...I LOVE that book...It's one of my forgotten faves. I'm digging it up and rereading it...
Thank you for that memory. I remember seeing the film "Charly" after reading the book and thinking what a disappointment...

Anonymous said...

Also a favorite book of mine! I may just have to stop by the library tomorrow.


TK said...

Never read it. I don't believe anything like that should ever be done though. God has his reasons for allowing people to be the way they are. There is an Autistic boy/man (can't remember age) who communicates through these AMAZING paintings. If his parents had the opportunity to make him "normal" who's to say he'd have found his love of art.

Also, who's to say what normal is? My "normal" is not the same as my husband's "normal".

Ok, there's my 2 cents worth in the debate! :)

Burg said...

I had a teacher once tell a class I was in that babies who didn't have normal brains should be "let go" (nice way of saying "die") and their organs should go to babies with more of a chance to live a normal life. I have to assume that she didn't know I have a disabled sister. It made me so very angry. God doesn't make people for spare parts.. It was, however, all I could do not to scrap her for parts.

Maria said...

I get very nervous about this clone/dna tampering/etc stuff. I mean, think about all the great artists, interesting people you know who are either mentally handicapped (my niece), physically handicapped or whatever. There is room for all of us at the table and our diversity is what makes it all tick.

And where does it stop? Gay people? Lots of people would say to not let them sit at the table either. Black people? Ditto.

Balderdash. We ALL have a right to be here.

And thank you, Elle, for once again writing a blog that makes me THINK.

Lene said...

ARGH! I just purchased 12 books for the book club I am in - I would have loved to have read this. I will definitely need to check it out on my own.

Very deep topic here. You were definitely a great nomination for the Thinker Blog award! ;)

No, I don't think that we have the right (as parents, doctors, or anyone) to change someone from who they are. We are who we are! As much as I gripe and moan and groan about my three year old - he is who he is. I would not change that because "he" would be lost. Does that make sense?

It goes back to genetic engineering in my eyes, and I am definitely not ok with that.

Elle, great topic and I found your perspective interesting.

Twisted Cinderella said...

I never read that book, but having read this post, I am going to look for it.

I have thought about this sort of "tampering" it is hard to know the right thing to do sometimes. When does something stop being treating and curing an illness or disease and when does it become tampering with who a person fundamentally is? I don't know.