Bioethics Blogs

The Stain of the Spotless Mind: Policy Recommendations for Memory Erasure

By Peter Leistikow
This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Peter Leistikow is an undergraduate student at Emory University studying Neuroscience and Sociology. When he is not doing research in pharmacology, Peter works as a volunteer Advanced EMT in the student-run Emory Emergency Medical Service.
Over the course of 15 years, psychologist Dan McAdams studied how Americans describe their lives. Specifically, McAdams wanted to know what kind of life narratives were associated with lives high in “generativity;” that is, a concern for and commitment to promoting the well-being of future generations. He ultimately discovered that generative adults had narrative identities that emphasized redemption, such as a second chance or delivery from suffering (McAdams 2006).

The observation that it might be essential to have overcome adversity, reaping all the lessons and baggage it entails, in order to become a compassionate, mature adult is especially important in light of new developments in the field of dampening or even erasing memories. This alarming area of research warrants a further examination by policymakers, and it is the recommendation of this briefing that decisive limitations should be imposed on access to this technology.
Image courtesy of Flikr

Memories were not always considered malleable; it was not until the 1960s that experiments in rats challenged the ideas that memories could be subjected to further modification, given the right conditions (Singer 2009). Fearful memories are made when emotionally salient events are labeled by the amygdala in the brain as emotionally significant and sent to the hippocampus for consolidation, strengthening synaptic connections into what will become a memory (Lu 2015).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.