An interesting concept for a POPPS prepared speech. Should have Clive Wearing been tested on if he couldn’t remember giving consent?

9 03 2012

For those who were not in the cognitive lecture or can’t remember from last year (tut,tut) Clive Wearing was a BBC musician who suffered brain damage after having a strain of the herpes virus. In this incredibly rare case Wearing suffered extreme damage to the hippocampus resulting in the inability to form new memories or remember anything that happened more than 30 seconds ago. (Wilson, Baddeley, & Kapur, 1995)

Each day wearing would wake from what he thought was unconsciousness and live entirely in the present. It could be argued this sounds like a very lonely existence, being trapped in the present. never the less research by Wilson, Baddeley, & Kapur, 1995 has provided abundance of new information about memory and the nature of memory loss due to wearing’s  case which may go on to help those who suffer memory loss as a result of brain damage. The case has many applications; sadly Clive Wearing will never be aware of how much he has helped and how much his case is talked about. Therefore was it right to publish articles and conduct research on such a vulnerable adult. Or to put it another way, how would you feel if you were tested over and over and on top of that had your personal life and lasting memories explored and talked about and yet you had no memory of this? This raises quite an unpleasant feeling and questions the motion of giving fully informed consent. Surely it would have taken more than 30 seconds to explain the full aims and procedures of any study? And isn’t the point of giving consent to protect the participant? On the other hand ethical approval could have been obtained via wearing next of kin. For example when his wife decided to divorce him he was unable to consent to it legally.

“Clive never knew we were divorced because he was incapable of knowing anything. His family and his consultant agreed it would only upset him at the time, and he would remember none of it afterwards anyway. Legally he could not give informed consent, so his son acted for him”.

However it cannot be dismissed that cases such as  HM and Clive Wearing both offer us with evidence that the Long Term memory is more complicated and seems to contain at least two parts (semantic and episodic)  (Wilson, Baddeley, & Kapur, 1995)

Deborah Wearing 2005. ‘Forever Today – A Memoir of Love and Amnesia’, by Deborah Wearing

(Wilson, Baddeley, & Kapur, 1995)




9 responses

13 03 2012

I loved this blog! 🙂 was really interesting and i completely agree with you about the lack of informed consent. However, i also think that as you said above, he could have gained informed consent from his (ex)wife, son etc. Also, its says in the APA that there needs to be signiificant cost-benefit analysis conducted before research can take place. The condition that he was in would mean that any harm (if any) that was caused to him would only have lasted 30 seconds anyway, and there was a significant benefit to using him as a case study. Think about how much we have gained from studying him? Although there was no fully informed consent, here i think the benefits seriously outweigh the costs.

13 03 2012

i think you described clive wearings case very well and made a very good point about vulnerable adults. However, you only briefly mentioned the good that came from studying clive wearing, ethical issues aside. Because of people like clive wearing suffering from anterograde amnesia, we have discovered so much about human memory and the areas of the brain involved in memory recall and processing.

14 03 2012

It’s an interesting and peculiar case you present. I do believe that individuals with rare conditions should be used for research as much as ethically possible. It’s these unique individuals that provide fascinating insights into the workings of the brain. Oliver Sacks book, the man who mistook his wife for a hat, provides examples of unique case studies in psychology which have helped shaped the way we understand the brain.

14 03 2012

More about informed consent..

The follow site suggests that competence is needed when it comes to giving valid consent. They suggest that people who are being asked for consent should have understanding of their illness and what they are being told. If so, it is important patients are included in the decisions, as much as possible. Furthermore, this site states that another decision maker should be used if understanding is impaired. A physician will take this role if there is no one available or until someone (such as a family) is appointed.

14 03 2012

Personally, I believe that it was okay to test on Clive Wearing due to the vast amount of knowledge we’ve been able to gain from his study. Wearing’s case is one of the most extreme cases of amnesia, and without studying him, we may still be years away from discovering the ground-breaking things we know now, such as how the hippocampus is essential for laying down new thoughts.

Although Clive might not have understood exactly what was going on, I do still think it was ethical to study him. His wife clearly loved him (as anyone can see in the documentary) and so would have decided with his best interests at heart. However, I can understand how some may still class this as unethical as you can never be 100% sure that the deligated person is acting completely selfless.

I loved you topic, and I thought it was great how you applied it so well to research methods!

14 03 2012
5 04 2012

I agree that cases like Clive Wearing and H.M have given us lots of knowledge about memory and memory deficits. Therefore, I completely agree with the research done on Clive Wearing.
If Clive forgets everything after 30 seconds, he probably would not feel any discomfort from his personal life discussed, because by the time he found out, he would forget it again. Therefore, I don’t see why it should be a problem. However, if Clive did have time to think about it, it would be an extremely temporary discomfort felt. Then when Clive forgets again, his mood would presumably be the same as when he forgot the time before that. It is a researcher’s ethical responsibility to the participant to ensure that if any discomfort or negative mood is caused by research, the researcher must attempt to restore the participant to their original mood before they leave. (vault.hanover) Therefore, the researchers did follow their ethical responsibilities, which I believe in this situation makes it fine ethically.
However, Clive Wearing’s full name was used rather than his initials or a false name to protect him. I understand that he wouldn’t know either way, but other patients with memory difficulties such as HM, got this privacy, (philipallan) so why not Clive? It’s not difficult to write CW instead of Clive’s full name and I don’t see the benefit to society by writing his full name. Maybe the researchers thought it was worth violating ethical principles of data protection because he deserved to be recognised for all of the knowledge of memory he’s helped gather.
So although I definitely agree with the research done on Clive, it’s difficult to decide whether his lack of identity protection was an act of cruelty or kindness, seeing as he’ll never know his achievement or feel any negative emotions towards the situation anyway…

11 09 2013


11 09 2013

i love this blog so interesting and has good info about clive wearing but does not cover all about him

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