I've got a little longer to go on my Prawfsblawg guest blog sting. See recent posts here (glossy brochures in legal academia), here (the exceptional life span of tortoises), and here (on incentivized organ donation).
In the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Jim Carrey's character erases his memory to ease the pain of his breakup with Kate Winslet's character. While memory erasure is still science fiction, you may be surprised to learn that we may already be able to phamaceutically dampen certain traumatic memories from the recent past. Such drugs may help treat or prevent post-traumatic stress disorder, which costs the U.S. government over $4 billion per year in disability payments. Here is the abstract of a paper I have drafted on the subject of "Therapeutic Forgetting":
Neuroscientists have made surprising advances in identifying drugs to dampen the emotional intensity of traumatic memories. Such drugs hold promise for those plagued by painful memories of terrorism, military conflict, assault, car accidents, and natural disasters. Yet some ethicists, including members of the President’s Council on Bioethics, claim that memory-dampening drugs may lead us to forget people and events that we are obligated to remember. They also fear that such drugs will reduce the value of eyewitness testimony and help criminals hide their tracks.
After describing the legal and ethical implications of memory dampening, I argue that the Council is unnecessarily alarmed. While memory is an essential component of personal identity and we do sometimes have obligations to remember, the Council’s concerns are founded on controversial premises that unjustifiably privilege our natural cognitive abilities. Furthermore, while perhaps we ought sometimes restrict memory dampening, a general prohibition would be unjustified: We have a deeply personal interest in controlling our own minds that entitles us to a certain "freedom of memory."