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Pill to erase bad memories: Ethical furore over drugs ‘that threaten human identity’

16 February, 2009

David Derbyshire
Last updated at 12:42 PM on 16th February 2009

A drug which appears to erase painful memories has been developed by scientists.

Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?  No more bad memories:  no more fear of driving?  or leaving the house?  or dogs?  or germs?  The list of things we fear is endless.   Imagine the possibilities when such a pill is fully developed.

I know lots of people who have bad memories they would probably like to lose, but [have you noticed yet that but is one of my favorite words?] but I always believed that I am who I am today because of my past.  My past is not something out of a rosy children’s book; it is a composite of embarrassments, unfortunate choices, accidents, and accidental choices, chance encounters, wondrous, magical moments, and day to day drudgery.  I look back at my mistakes and wonder who I would be today had I not made them?  Would I want to wipe all that out?  Who would I be then?

I know the argument for the drug.  It sounds so reasonable.

The astonishing treatment could help sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder and those whose lives are plagued by hurtful recurrent memories.


Many members of my family, including me, have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.  Some of us have had more successful treatment than others, but all of us are still haunted by a single (or successive) moment(s) brought about massive changes in our lives.  If I could swallow a magic pill would I want all of that erased?  Tempting?  Yes.  Would I do it?  No.

But [there it is again] think of the possible misuses of this powerful drug.  Do you dislike the directions our government is taking?  Let me get you a drink to help you forget it?  Are you one of those independent types who questions all orders?  Take a pill and call me in the morning.  Are you bothered by your first tour of duty in one of our military units? Has it raised moral concerns for you?   I can help you overcome those qualms. Do you sometimes wonder about what is real or not?  Take the red pill and be happy in your function.

Okay, so I’ve seen one too many science fiction movie.  But remember that science has always been a harbinger of our future.  Submarines and rockets were once fantasies in books; handheld communication devices, books, location monitors were fantasies on TV shows; dodging bullets and suits that help dodge bullets are fantasies in movies.  Or, are they?  [IBM has applied for a patent that allows body armor to help a person move out of the way of a bullet or other incoming missile  (Google “IBM patent reaction times” and see for yourself).

I’m not the only one voicing concern over these magic pills.

But British experts said the breakthrough raises disturbing ethical questions about what makes us human.
clipDr Daniel Sokol, a lecturer in medical ethics at St George’s, University of London, said: ‘Removing bad memories is not like removing a wart or a mole. It will change our personal identity since who we are is linked to our memories.


Even though I agree with Dr. Sokol about what makes us individuals, I believe that there is a larger question here.

Who decides whether we take the pill or not?    Will the drug company be advertising this medication as it does anti-depressants and sleeping medications, suggesting that you talk to your doctor about it?  Will the doctor be getting a cut of the proceeds?  What if the medical profession is controlled by the government? Who controls the distributions? What if the drug companies are overseen by the government?  Oh, wait!  They already are.

Drug companies, physician, hospitals all controlled by the government and a little blue pill to help you forget who you really are.  Science fiction or reality?

Are you worried yet?

Read the story HERE.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 16 February, 2009 21:15

    This reminds me of stories, presumably more or less first-hand, that I heard a few years ago, about people being denied pain medication during dental work or minor surgery — then given a memory-erasing pill so they would not remember the pain!

    Great way to keep from being sued….

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