In un articolo pubblicato su Longreads, il giornalista freelance Tim Requarth ripercorre la storia di suo fratello Conway (nome di fantasia adoperato dall’autore per proteggere la privacy del protagonista del racconto), la cui personalità sembrerebbe aver subito una sorta di trasformazione in seguito ai danni alla corteccia prefrontale dorsolaterale causatigli da un incidente stradale avvenuto nel 2007. Requarth, tracciando un parallelismo tra il caso di suo fratello e quello – dai contorni non proprio chiari ma comunque noto nel campo delle neuroscienze – di Phineas Gage, e raccontando anche alcuni aspetti – giudiziari e non – della vita di Conway negli anni precedenti e successivi all’incidente del 2007, riflette sulle implicazioni di un sistema legale biologicamente informato e sui rischi connessi a una ricerca neuroscientifica che non sia sufficientemente resistente alle influenze delle convenzioni sociali del momento.
When the motorcycle accident dealt my brother’s brain an irreversible blow, he and his wife were living in their newly purchased farmhouse on the fringes of suburban Chicago. Conway* had been waiting to move out of the city’s inner-ring suburbs for years, and each morning on the forested property he woke up exuberant. Shortly after moving in, he built an extraordinary tree house some 60 feet in the air, spanning two trees, with sliding joists under the floor to accommodate sway and a hammock to lie in during sunsets. He loved riding his motorcycle, and before work he’d sometimes take his bike out for a spin on the open roads just a few miles away. His wife, Caroline, loved antiques, and the area was full of shops. They were in their 50s and living in a house they planned to grow old in together. Then, after dinner on a fall day in 2007, Conway hopped on his Harley Softail Classic to go buy ice cream and cigarettes. A drunk driver barreled into him. Conway’s left femur snapped and his skull struck the traffic-warmed asphalt, splattering blood all the way to the road’s shoulder.
Conway’s body was battered, but the real threat, the injury warranting a helicopter ride to the closest hospital with a neurosurgeon on call, was a hemorrhage beneath the subarachnoid membrane, a thin sheath of triple-helixed collagen fibers intertwined with blood vessels that protects the brain’s private chemical harbor of cerebrospinal fluid from the open waters of the body’s blood. The sons of a doctor ourselves, my brother and I had heard stories about neurosurgeons called in at midnight, and those stories didn’t have happy endings.
In the weeks after the accident, I watched Conway wake, recognize familiar faces, and begin to walk. Some signs of progress were cause for celebration; other developments were more worrisome. He’d rarely ever raised his voice at Caroline, but now he called her a “worthless cunt” and a “bitch.” He was lewd to the nurses, exposing himself and laughing. When a speech therapist gently reminded him that she would return for another session later that afternoon, Conway retorted, “No you won’t, because I’ll be fucking you in my van outside!”
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