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Why not study the brains of top Florida officials?

October 9, 1985

A true news item: State medical examiners have acknowledged secretly removing parts of the brains of executed prisoners for use in laboratory studies of aberrant behavior.

gainesville—Researchers today announced the expansion of the state's Involuntary Brain Donor Program to include members of the Florida Cabinet, the state Legislature and other qualified public officials.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for a scientific breakthrough," proclaimed Dr. Igor Hans of the University of Florida. "For years people have been wondering what makes politicians act the way they do. Studying their brain cells may unlock this terrible secret."

But several top Florida political figures immediately objected to the plan, calling it "coldhearted, barbaric and just plain icky."

"They're not getting my brain unless they get the governor's," vowed Agriculture Commissioner Doyle Conner.

"Don't worry, they're not getting the governor's," said a spokesman for the governor. "We keep a darn close eye on it."

Scientists argue that the benefits of brain experiments will far outweigh concerns for the privacy and dignity of the deceased. They say it makes more sense to study politicians than convicted murderers.

"Serial killers are a dime a dozen," Dr. Hans said, "but how many Claude Kirks are there in this world?"

Pathologists said that politicians' brains will be preserved in a mixture of formaldehyde and Johnnie Walker Red. Afterward the tissue will be microscopically photographed and dissected, then injected with powerful enzymes made from aspirin and Maxwell House coffee grounds.

To make the brains feel at home, the tests will be conducted in a $150-a-night suite on the top floor of the Tallahassee Hilton.

Dr. Hans said he expects to find striking differences between the brains of politicians and those of other humans.

"They'll be slightly smaller, of course," the famed neurologist said, "but this'll save us a fortune on storage space."

Behavioral scientists have speculated that many officeholders suffer from a cerebral condition known as Milhous Syndrome—a disorder causing the part of the brain that controls modesty, truthfulness and frugality to shrink to the size of a subway token.

Dr. Hans said he will test the theory on his first subject, preferably either a former Margate city commissioner or a Monroe County zoning board member.

Ironically, the donor team is having trouble recruiting experts to work on the landmark project.

"Doctors who wouldn't think twice about examining a bank robber's brain won't set foot in the same lab with a state senator's," Dr. Hans said. "People fear most what they don't understand."

Nationwide, there has been only one documented case of experimentation on the neurons of a political officeholder—a former U.S. congressman who had willed his cerebrum to science.

As part of the experiment, neurologists at Johns Hopkins University placed the congressman's brain on a laboratory table next to a stack of $5o bills. Within seconds, the organ quivered and began inching closer to the money, a phenomenon for which scientists could offer no explanation.

Dr. Hans said he would not attempt to duplicate the controversial Johns Hopkins studies.

"We already know what motivates a brain like that," he shrugged. "We're much more curious about the twisted pathology behind it."

Some ex-officeholders, including several former Florida Cabinet members, expressed "grave concern" that part of their brains already might have been removed without their permission.

However, scientists say that they're doing their best to ascertain that brain donors are actually dead before the organs are taken.

"Sometimes it's a close call," Dr. Hans conceded.


At Disney, its a wild, wild world April 23, 1998 | Kick Ass: Selected Columns of Carl Hiaasen | Beer and pizza for everyone, Mr. Governor June 5, 1987







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