Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 95–103 | Cite as

Memory Interventions in the Criminal Justice System: Some Practical Ethical Considerations

  • Laura Y. CabreraEmail author
  • Bernice S. Elger
Original Research


In recent years, discussion around memory modification interventions has gained attention. However, discussion around the use of memory interventions in the criminal justice system has been mostly absent. In this paper we start by highlighting the importance memory has for human well-being and personal identity, as well as its role within the criminal forensic setting; in particular, for claiming and accepting legal responsibility, for moral learning, and for retribution. We provide examples of memory interventions that are currently available for medical purposes, but that in the future could be used in the forensic setting to modify criminal offenders’ memories. In this section we contrast the cases of (1) dampening and (2) enhancing memories of criminal offenders. We then present from a pragmatic approach some pressing ethical issues associated with these types of memory interventions. The paper ends up highlighting how these pragmatic considerations can help establish ethically justified criteria regarding the possibility of interventions aimed at modifying criminal offenders’ memories.


Criminal Criminal forensic setting Memory Neuro-intervention Retribution 



We kindly thank comments from various commentators in different seminar presentations where earlier versions of this paper were presented, as well as the reviewers’ comments, which helped to improve this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences and Department of Translational Science and Molecular MedicineMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Biomedical Ethics (IBMB)University of BaselBaselSwitzerland

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