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The Procedure

by Steve Gerben


Not all prisoners would be eligible for the procedure. Not most, in fact. It was new, expensive, and only guaranteed success when the abnormalities in the amygdala, frontal cortex, and relevant pathways of the brain met narrow acceptance criteria. In time, researchers were confident the technology would improve, and the scope of violent proclivities they could erase would widen – but for now only a few murderers would be cured of their desire to kill, transformed into normal citizens by a neurosurgical procedure, and then released.

To many, the procedure constituted a great humanitarian leap forward. The brain was a physical system just like the body, or so the logic went. Someone born with the brain of a murderer was just as unlucky as someone born with any other physical defect. If we had the capacity to fix either, only a monster would refuse someone the cure.

Paul, then, was fine with being a monster. When the man who murdered his daughter was deemed an ideal candidate for the procedure, Paul fought desperately to keep him away from the operating table. The murderer’s cure would be his family’s poison, Paul argued. How could he and his wife ever find peace knowing their daughter’s murderer was free and enjoying life? Where was the justice or ‘humanitarianism’ in that?

Sympathetic ears listened, but steadfast action followed. The procedure was performed and, after a few months of evaluation, deemed a complete success. The murderer was given a new identity and freed.

Over the course of the following year, rage plundered everything good remaining in Paul’s life. His marriage fell apart. He ignored his friends. His thoughts focused obsessively on the injustice of the procedure, which in turn fueled his rage even further. It was a feedback loop he couldn’t break, and, increasingly, didn’t want to live through anymore.

Paul got the murderer’s new address from a private investigator. He didn’t make a grand plan or buy an untraceable gun. He just drove through the night, waited outside the murderer’s house, and shot him point-blank when he came out for work in the morning.   

Paul was arrested, tried, and convicted of murder. He would not, however, be eligible for the procedure; his brain did not meet the acceptance criteria.