By Mark David Blum, Esq.
If you could, would you?
Think about your absolute worst memory; the most horrific event of your life. If you are one of the lucky ones, imagine someone having been raped, or surviving a near death experience.
What if there was a drug you could take that would interrupt and eventually erase that memory completely from your mind? Would you take it? According to a recent study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, psychiatrists at McGill University, in Montreal, and Harvard University, in Boston have indeed developed such a drug. Administered at the proper moment, they content a memory can be blocked and even deleted from your mind.
Recalling an episode from the original Star Trek television series (yes, I was a ‘trekkie’ complete with Tribble), the Enterprise happened upon a planet where when the crew would go on leave, they met a man who could erase bad memories. Of course, the crew was all taking advantage of it but there were ramifications. Captain Kirk refused; making the comment, “I --- Need --- My --- Pain!”
In that over dramatized line, a very astute observation of life is made. Pain, like pleasure, is part of the human experience. It teaches us our limitations and engrains in us a memory from which we conduct ourselves in the future.
But humans also have developed a fascinating genetic capability; one to which any mother can attest. We remember that something hurt; even hurt badly. The event and how we behaved under the moment of experiencing the pain is in our memory. But we do not remember the pain itself. Not many mothers can actually remember and feel now the pain they once felt during childbirth. They can tell you it hurt, but not be able to re-experience it. The situation is not the same with joy. Can anybody recall a funny joke or event? I bet you still laugh.
That notwithstanding, some kinds of pain do not end. The long scar across your face or deep cut in your heart can be a source of continuing pain. A scar can be cured through surgery but the guy who cut you, the fear and P.T.S.D. from which you suffer as a result of the attack, is not an issue reconcilable with a plastic surgeon’s blade.
Two scientists offer now the chance to cure that scar through timely injection of a new drug. They dredge up the painful memory under hypnosis, and at the right moment, stab you with a hypodermic needle with this miracle drug and, POOF, all gone bad memory.
Would you do it?
Not me. I do indeed need my pain; although if the good Lord would be so kind, a little less pain and a bit more pleasure would be nice.
Think about it: Whatever horrific events that happened in your life, they have molded you into who and what you are today. Your choice of mate certainly has to have come from many ugly coyotes in your bed. The job you have, or do not have, was probably determined by some painful experience. Your relationships with your parents, your ability to get along, the fire and zeal that drives you, or the roadblocks which hinder you, all come from a lifetime of adjustment to the pain of yore.
Decision making is probably the most important factor to consider. Your ability to make a decision is based not only on the facts in front of you, but based on a lifetime of experience. Arguably no good business decision can ever be made until you have suffered the pain of having made many bad ones. Lessons learned can be painful; but they are lessons that can guide you safely through the rest of your life.
I contend that your entire identity is the sum total and culmination of a lifetime of experience. The pain you may carry in your heart you have learned to deal with and it guides you in your decisions. Take away the memory of that pain, and what remains would be a new identity. A fundamental plank upon which you function is suddenly gone from under your feet and this itself requires an adjustment in both personality and lifestyle.
Of course I would love to forget my first marriage (except for my darling daughter and grandsons) as much as I would love to forget the events leading up to and after my suspension from practice. Jab me with a needle and poof; no more pain. No thanks.
I am a better lawyer for my mistakes and pain. My lack of fear in a court room comes from having horribly embarrassed myself in my first year of lawschool in front of my entire class. Ask anybody who has bombed and been thrown off stage how much pain that causes. From that experience however, I lost my fear because I know where that line is and can moreso focus on what is important. Same with my suspension: Imagine suddenly I find myself in my current condition after 16 years of practice and I have no recollection why. I would think I am a failure and a lousy lawyer; instead of having had a lapse of character almost ten years ago. The pain from that event not only has made me a better lawyer, but has made me a better person as I was able to use that pain to evaluate everything in my world and figure out what went wrong. Losing that memory, forgetting the pain, I verily believe is the wrong response.
Absent an organic source therefor, it is important for the human mind to experience and recall pain. In its most basic sense; think of a child and how you teach about fire being hot. Some kids you tell and they listen. Others, like a certain lawyer I know, are not satisfied until they stick their hands in the fire. Bet that the lesson learned stays forever. Take away that memory and the same personality that put the hand in the fire in the first place will just do it again.
Memories of combat, of the fear, the smell, the noise, the chaos, and watching your friends bleed out in front of you can last forever. They can haunt your nightmares and pop up and overwhelm you without notice. Your heart races, you can’t breathe, and all you can think about is taking cover. Likewise, I have no doubt a rape victim has the same horrifying flashbacks and re-experiences. It would seem that even these deep intense hurts should be treated, but not erased.
Surely there are situations where the psychic injury is so severe that the individual simply cannot function. Perhaps then erasing the causal memory may ‘cure’ the problem; I can offer no opinion because I lack the experience or expertise. Surely, there has to be another way through drug and talk therapy to held the person adjust and rebuild their lives. Erasing memories seems too drastic; even for Nurse Ratchet.
Then of course, there is the slippery slope issue: What if this drug finds its way into corrupt hands. Trial testimony can be skewed. Passwords, national security interests, or even who’s your daddy can all become problematic. Of course, there are upsides like making “her” forget that you finished too quickly last time or making “him” forget about finding you and the pool boy. Maybe I could give some to my kid and dump her like a dog in a strange town. One jab and life is good again.
As tempting and tantalizing would be the prospect, I do not think society is ready for this drug to be used as is intended. Absent an extreme situation, it’s use is morally wrong and inconsistent with how humans beings develop.
I do have one question. Will this drug make me forget that I smoke cigarettes?