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“Lobotomies, Pain Guns, and Shredded Data: Patient H.M. and the Ethics of Human Experimentation”

  • Washington University in St. Louis Umrath Lounge (map)

Assembly Series Lecture.

Luke Dittrich is a national magazine award-winning journalist and contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine.

Dittrich will speak on his book, Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness and Family Secrets. Patient H.M. tells the fascinating and sometimes troubling true story of Henry Molaison, an amnesic who became the most studied human research subject ever. Dittrich explores of the history of memory science and raises urgent questions about the ethics of medical research and human experimentation.

Patient H.M. is both a wide-ranging scientific odyssey and a deeply personal exploration of Dittrich’s own family history. In 1953, Dittrich’s grandfather — a brilliant, risk-taking neurosurgeon whose own wife’s mental illness had inspired him to become a hugely prolific lobotomist — performed an experimental brain operation on a young man named Henry Molaison, a procedure which unexpectedly destroyed Molaison’s ability to create new memories. Patient H.M., as Molaison would be known, went on to become the most studied individual in the history of science, a human guinea pig who spent the next six decades living his life in four-minute increments. In exploring the long history of brain science, the book takes readers from Ancient Egypt to 18th-century asylums to modern laboratories, while continually raising urgent ethical and moral questions about how far we’ve gone, and how far we continue to go, in our ruthless pursuit of knowledge.