Memory Modification as Treatment for PTSD: Neuroscientific Reality and Ethical Concerns

  • Rain LiivojaEmail author
  • Marijn C. W. Kroes
Part of the Military and Humanitarian Health Ethics book series (MHHE)


Exposure to traumatic events can trigger mental disorders, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People with PTSD are haunted by intrusive traumatic memories that evoke severe fear responses, causing great suffering. Members of the armed forces are at an increased risk of experiencing traumatic events and therefore developing PTSD. Current treatments teach patients to regulate trauma memories, but many experience a return of symptoms even after initially successful treatment. Neuroscientific research 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 (ELSI). This chapter provides an overview of how traumatic memories contribute to PTSD, current treatment methods, their limitations, and the state-of-the-art of MMTs. Then, drawing on these neuroscience insights, the chapter discusses some ELSI of utilizing MMTs to treat PTSD in military populations. The focus is on three major sets of issues: safety and social justice concerns, concerns about threat to authenticity and identity, and possible legal and moral duties to retain certain memories. The chapter concludes that, within current scientific reality, concerns are often overstated and do not outweigh the potential benefit to develop treatments for patients.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human RightsUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  3. 3.Radboud University Nijmegen Medical CenterNijmegenThe Netherlands

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