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Commentary on the World

Autism Reversed In Lab Mice

caution - mind dump ahead

Besides the more or less misleading title (“Autism” is like cancer - it’s a term for a very broad disorder with wide-ranging symptoms) it’s interesting.

Not so much medically interesting, but ethically interesting.

At what point does one’s chemical makeup become a part of their identity? The difference between men and women is merely genetic and chemical - but if you woke up tomorrow as a woman, your self concept would certainly be affected. Someone going around more or less at random, changing people’s genders would be seen as someone doing harm to other people.

Likewise, at what point does a person’s physical, chemical, and cognitive differences become a part of an individual’s identity, and not something that should be cast off in order to approach something called “normal”?

In one of my classes, the professor made the point that memory is fundamentally linked to language; that when we see or hear something, information is most often coded into words and then stored. I think there’s a lot of validity to that, and it might help explain why one’s memory can be affected so easily - something as simple as “priming” can alter one’s recollection of FUTURE events, IIRC (so, if someone credibly tells you that there have been a lot of black people committing robberies, and you see a robbery, you’re more likely to remember the culprit as black - if memory is not linked to language, you should just be able to replay the “video tape” and see things just as they happened).

All this is a roundabout way of getting to my point - if memory is linked to language, and memory is the “wellspring” of our personality, our essence, then changing one’s perception of reality and language would result in changing the core of a person. Take someone who is deaf from birth - all of a sudden, their perception of reality would shift if they could hear. Is that always good? Wouldn’t “being deaf” and having a different view on reality be something of value? I take pride in being able to see a problem from different perspectives then most people - it seems perfectly reasonable that a deaf person might have the same feelings.

I suppose you could offer the option of whether or not to get any particular thing treated - but so often the most serious “disorders”, the things that we would most like to “fix”, are so serious that it seems difficult to suggest that we could actually have informed consent. Also, we would probably want to let children have the benefit of the “fix” as they grow up - how can we get a child’s consent for a serious medical operation, that could very well change their… well… “soul”.

How can a parent know what goes on in an autistic, or deaf, child’s head any more then I can REALLY know what goes on in anyone else’s head? If indeed biological processes can change the very core and soul of a person, can someone without the condition truly appreciate its value?

What is chemical, biological and hardwired, and what is learned? What is a disability that must be fixed, what is a normal human limitation, and what is part of a person’s identity that should not be taken from them? How “defective” must something be in order for it to be fixed?

What objective standard can be used to determine normalcy? Years ago, being gay was in the DSM - it was a diagnosable psychological condition, just like sociopathy. Now, being gay is not generally considered a disorder at all (indeed, the argument is made too that it’s not a choice at all - it’s a biological difference that a person cannot just will away. If we COULD “fix” it, should we?)