June 11, 2005

Nagging storyline - Miracle Max and the Miracle Pill

I keep having this nagging urge to write a story where some whizkid at a rational drug design company invents a wonderpill to treat really tough cases of addiction - the kind where months after physical detox, patients just relapse, time and time again. There's something in their brain structure that just needs the addiction. After dumping everything they know about the chemical characteristics of the brains of the patients in the test group into a massive computing Macguffin, the Whizkid and team crunch numbers for T amount of time and in a scene reminiscent of the production of the Wonka Chewing-Gum Meal a gigantic whizbang machine groans mightily and spits out a simple pink pill.

They all look at each other.

Then they find a multiple-relapse heroin patient who agrees, nay, wants badly, to test it. They do toxicology tests on it, it looks OK, so they have this poor guy sign ninety-four waivers and then take the pill. It's a one-shot, no repeat - it does nano, or something, to your receptors for supportive chemical dependencies.

He's fine.

A year later, he's still fine. No relapses. Productive happy guy. Has taken up guitar again, gone back to his old job but decided it's a grind and gotten a slightly lower-paying but not stupid one so he has time to play guitar. His wife is ecstatic. His kids are stunned. He's healthy. Miracle pill.

They're really careful people, though, so they don't rush out and start selling it. They start up the wider test program that's been waiting. In the meantime, though, Whizkid's (brother/uncle/father) has a problem with pills, and he sneaks a pill out to give them. In convincing them that it's safe and that he'd never give them anything he thought was harmful, he eats one first. They look at him, and the family looks at each other, and the relative shrugs and takes the pill.

Same happy ending - this time, though, the relative hadn't already been detoxed, the pill just slams the addiction down cold. There are some withdrawal symptoms, of course, but no relapse - the pill works. Everyone is so proud. Whizkid doesn't tell anyone at work, of course, because he doesn't want to bias the research - he's got a few ethics (he did, after all, disclose fully to the relative before offering it, and test it first).

Then a few weeks later, his wife/mom/dad admonishes him for having missed church a couple weeks in a row. He's really busy of course, because now the pre-release-announcement testing is in full blitz. But, he realizes, he doesn't feel any guilt. And he's a fairly religious guy. Shrugs and keeps working.

Then he notices the relative who took the pill isn't going to church either.

Long and the short of it - taking the pill which cures dependency on an outside factor seems to remove any form of desire to attend or participate in organized religion, other than the usual concrete desire to spend time with family and friends.

Implication is obvious - religion, whether or not there is a God, at some point in the process involves the simple satisfaction of a chemical trigger in the brain. Whether by Divine mechanism or simple biofeedback, who knows or cares?

Now the fun starts.

The pill works. It will cure hopelessly ill addicts. It has the potential to eliminate the physically addictive components of smoking, alcoholism, perhaps even gambling - some of the sins some religions preach against. It doesn't seem to deaden sensation, just receptors which require particular constant triggering to avoid negative consequences - i.e. withdrawal. But religion, in some forms, seems to be included.

What happens then?

Does Whizkid tell his colleagues? Does anyone else figure this out? What does he do? Does he suppress this information, knowing what it will mean if the pill is released? Neither he nor his relative feel any sadness, loss, grief or anger at the change in their experience of life - they just can't understand why they felt they needed to believe in something like that before. Now they don't anymore. Nothing more than that. He understands that it won't be that simple to someone on the other side of the change, but to him, it's no big deal. Has he been brainwashed? Programmed? Deprogrammed? Freed? Rationalized? Derationalized? Robbed?

And now, he has the choice: given how many wars religion has sparked over the years, he has a shot at seeing that some portion of humanity gets this treatment whether they like it or not. Or, he has a choice of making this information about what the treatment is and does available, and letting them choose - but perhaps triggering chaos from fear of the possibilities, as those who refuse to let others choose for themselves in either direction seek to enforce that lack of freedom. Or he can keep silent, knowing what freedoms he just denied every other sentient choosing being.

What would you do?

Posted by jbz at June 11, 2005 3:10 AM | TrackBack

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