IRRC No. 910

Eradicating war memories: Neuroscientific reality and ethical concerns

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Traumatic memories of war can result in mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is characterized by intrusive traumamemories and severe stress responses with devastating personal and societal consequences. Current treatments teach patients to regulate trauma memories, but many experience a return of symptoms even after initially successful treatment. Neuroscience is discovering ways to permanently modify trauma memories and prevent the return of symptoms. Such memory modification techniques (MMTs) have great clinical potential but also important ethical, legal and social implications. In this article, the authors describe PTSD, the role of memory in PTSD, its effects on the brain, and the limitations of current treatment methods. Then, the state of the art of the neuroscience of MMTs is presented. Within this realistic scientific framework the authors will discuss the ethical, legal and social implications of MMTs for the treatment of war-induced PTSD, especially in a military population. Three major sets of issues will be focused on: safety and social justice concerns, concerns about threats to authenticity and identity, and the possible legal and moral duties to retain certain memories. Finally, the article concludes that within scientific reality, concerns are limited and do not outweigh the potential benefits of developing treatments for patients.

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