Was I going up the stairs or down?

Everyone has heard the jokes making fun of ourselves as we age and lose our ability to remember things. Most of us can think of times 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  found a drug that makes rats forget what they’ve learned. (One wonders why they don’t just let the rats get old and forget things on their own.) Researchers point to the positive potential of their discovery. If the drug affects human brains similarly, it could be used to treat addictive behaviors or, perhaps, to lessen the pain of traumatic experiences. The research might help neurologists understand why the brain erases memories on its own. It could lead to treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

Research into the causes and potential treatments for dementia always catches my attention. There is a history of Alzheimer’s disease in my family. I watched memory,  intellect, reason, personality and all normal functioning slowly disappear from several people I loved. Dementia kills people gradually. They vanish little by little, day by day. Having your parent or spouse look at you without recognition never ceases to hurt.

There also could be negative uses of these drug discoveries. Witnesses to crimes could be injected with the drug to erase what they remembered seeing.  Whistleblowers could be made to forget the illegal activities of their bosses. The drug could even be used to induce dementia. Why should we believe that this discovery will not be misused?

All scientific discoveries have the potential for good and for evil use.  The ability to split atoms has been used to generate nuclear energy, but also to build atomic bombs. Understanding how germs spread and multiply has led to cures for disease. The same knowledge is used to wage germ warfare. Rocket science carries us into space and propels cluster bombs here on earth.

The study of genetics has created the potential to predict, diagnose and treat many kinds of disease. Genetic analysis also could 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 also cause unintended side effects sometimes worse than the disease being treated. Painkillers can be addictive. Drugs can be overused and become ineffective.

Computers changed how we communicate. Information is available faster and to a larger audience. Research can be done anywhere, anytime and on any number of topics. Computers also can be used for identity fraud, to expose children to pornography and to spread misinformation, rumors and lies.

We can never anticipate all the consequences, positive or negative, of any scientific discovery or technological development. However, ethical discussions should take place before new discoveries are put into use. Some genies are very hard to put back in the bottle.

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

Copyright © 2017 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains