Bioethics Grad Student Presents at International Neuroethics Conference

Memory Modification Technologies and Child Soldiers

Speaker: Catherine Randall

Conference info: Brain Matters: Ethics in the Translation of Neuroscience Research to Psychiatric and Neurological Care

Location: Montréal, Québec

Dates: May 26-27, 2011

Many soldiers return from combat with PTSD or other psychiatric problems as a result of traumatic experiences in war. Research on memory modification technologies (MMTs) is now underway and may soon provide a means to blunt the emotional impact of those memories, or remove them entirely. When MMTs become available, those who have suffered traumatic experiences are likely to be most in need of such technologies. For this reason, Catherine Randall wants to examine the ethical implications of using MMTs to alter traumatic memories in general, and the memories of child soldiers in particular.

Catherine Randall will discuss several reasons why soldiers might have an obligation to maintain their memories of war. She suggests that even if soldiers in general do have such an obligation, child soldiers would not have the same obligation because they are not capable of making the autonomous decision to engage in warfare. Therefore, it may be permissible for children to use memory modification technologies to remove or blunt the harmful memories they obtained under coercion. Blunting traumatic memories may bring the emotional impact to a manageable level so that the children are better able to work through those memories in therapy. MMTs also raise the issue of identity and whether it is ever permissible to alter or remove a memory. She will also discuss who can give consent for MMTs to be used on child soldiers. Overall, MMTs may have great potential to alleviate the burden of traumatic war memories on child soldiers and allow them to live fuller and healthier lives, but there are many ethical issues implicit in the use of these technologies.