Was I going up the stairs or down?

Everyone has heard the jokes which make fun of us as we age and lose our ability to remember things. Most of us can think of instances when we couldn’t remember whether we were going up the stairs or down. We have put things away for safekeeping only to forget where that safe place was.

Scientists at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, in Brooklyn, New York have found a drug which can make rats forget what they’ve learned. One has to wonder why they just don’t let the rats get old and forget things on their own. Researchers point out the potential of their discovery. The drug, if it affects human brains in a similar way, could be used to treat addictive behaviors or to lessen the pain of traumatic experiences. The research could also help neurologists understand why the brain erases memories on its own. It could lead to treatments for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Research about dementia always interests me. There is a history of Alzheimer’s disease in my family. I watched the gradual disappearance of personality, intellect, reason, and function with several people I loved. Dementia kills people gradually. It is like watching them vanish little by little, day by day. To have your parent or spouse look at you without recognition never ceases to hurt.

Finding a key to prevent and treat dementia would be a great thing.

There could be other, potentially negative, uses of the research. Witnesses to crimes could be injected with the drug to make them forget what they saw. Whistleblowers could be made to forget the illegal activities of their bosses. The drug could potentially be used to induce dementia. There is no reason to believe that this discovery would be different from others and would not be misused.

The potential for good and evil exist in all knowledge. Consider the ability to split atoms. The understanding of nuclear physics is used not only for energy generation, but also for bombs. The understanding of how germs work can cure disease or can be used to wage germ warfare. The knowledge of rocket science carried us to the moon and propels cluster bombs.

The study of genetics has created the potential to predict, diagnose and treat many kinds of disease. Genetic analysis can also be used to exclude people from affordable health insurance because they carry potentially disease causing genes.

Drug therapies can cure disease, ease pain, and extend life. Drugs can also cause unintended side effects worse than the disease being treated. Painkillers can be addictive. Drugs can be overused and become ineffective.

Computers have changed how we communicate. Information is available faster and to a larger audience. I love writing with my computer. I am able to do research from my home office on unlimited topics. Computers can also be the conduit for identity fraud, can expose children to pornography, and be used for the proliferation of misinformation, rumors and lies.

While we can never anticipate all the consequences of any scientific discovery or technological development, there need to be ethical discussions that occur along with the scientific research. Scientists should not be exempt from considering all the potential–good and bad–of their work.

Perhaps researchers can find a drug that eliminates hate, greed, pride and lust for power. I wonder what the disadvantage of that would be?

Copyright © 2014 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains

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