Blog Editor


  • Copyright 2005-20012 by Adam Kolber
    All rights reserved.

« Stanford's "Reading Minds" Conference | Main | Recent Posts at Prawfsblawg »


if this became common treatment for trauma victoms, I would worry about the treatment getting used for less extreme situations, perhaps even cosmological situations.

Would users become less empathetic towards others?

Oops. "cosmetic" not "cosmological". That's what I get for not proofreading.

Great comments. The President's Council on Bioethics expressed both of these concerns: (1) The Council was more willing to accept the use of memory-dampening drugs to treat PTSD than to treat say, the breakup of a short-term romantic relationship, and (2) The Council was, indeed, concerned that the drugs could make us less empathetic and more inured to tragedy. They were particularly concerned about the use of such drugs by soldiers on the battlefield who might me more aggressive if they believe that they can subsequently dissipate pangs of conscience.

In the paper I link to in the original post, I do my best to address these concerns. In short, I make the relatively modest claim that concerns over memory-dampening drugs can be dealt with using modest regulation rather than complete prohibition. So doctors may still limit when drugs can be used for minor "traumas," that fall under the category of "cosmetic neurology" (the title of a paper by Anjan Chatterjee). I'm not necessarily endorsing such limitations, but, certainly, we can limit cosmetic enhancements without generally prohibiting memory dampening.

I think the second concern is more troubling. It's hard to address now, until we know more about the effects of some particular memory-dampening drug. But surely we already have drugs like alcohol and antidepressants that ease the pain of tragedy. Yet, I don't think we have great fears that such drugs inure us to the pain of others. If they have some such effects, the conventional wisdom seems to be that these effects are not strong enough to warrant greatly restricting people's liberty to use them. I acknowledge the possibility that some future memory-dampening drug may have powerful effects, and so, perhaps it will require stronger regulation than alcohol and antidepressants. Of course, there is already great variation among various individuals as to how they respond to the tragedy of others. So I end by raising a question: Is it fair to those who are born more sensitive to trauma and tragedy to have to bear the burdens of societal sympathy when others, born with different dispositions, need not?

I provide better (or at least more detailed) responses in the draft paper. Thanks, Sheila, for your thoughts!

A pleasant surprise--I had assumed the paper would be by subscription only, and it isn't. I didn't follow the link the first time. I have more thoughts in answer to your question, but they'll wait until I finish reading the paper.

Thank you for the reply.

The comments to this entry are closed.