December 7, 2022

The ethics of memory alteration

What if we could erase our own memories? This scenario has largely remained within the realm of science fiction (consider films like Total Recall and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). A new article in the Journal of Medical Ethics takes it as a serious possibility, and offers a novel legal perspective on the ethics of memory alteration.

What if we could erase our own memories? This scenario has largely remained within the realm of science fiction (consider films like Total Recall and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

A new article in the Journal of Medical Ethics takes it as a serious possibility, and offers a novel legal perspective on the ethics of memory alteration.    

In ‘The Limited Right To Alter Memory’, Brooklyn Law School’s Adam J. Kolber examines some of the legal barriers that might prevent doctors from aiding their patients in erasing memory.

Kolber acknowledges the profound psychological benefits that erasing harrowing memories could have.

Nevertheless, if a memory is about some crime that was witnessed, doctors may be restricted by legal stipulations concerning witness memory. The psychological benefits of erasing such distressing memories would be overridden by the legal duty to aid in the prosecution of the guilty and the preservation of public safety. 

Kolber acknowledges the intuition that “we think of our memories as our property”, but he cautions against the glib moral assumption that we have “unfettered rights to [alter] our own memories”. 

Xavier Symons
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