Another Look at the Legal and Ethical Consequences of Pharmacological Memory Dampening: The Case of Sexual Assault

Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 41 (4):859-871 (2013)
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Research on the use of propranolol as a pharmacological memory dampening treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder is continuing and justifies a second look at the legal and ethical issues raised in the past. We summarize the general ethical and legal issues raised in the literature so far, and we select two for in-depth reconsideration. We address the concern that a traumatized witness may be less effective in a prosecution emerging from the traumatic event after memory dampening treatment. We analyze this issue in relation to sexual assault, where the suggestion that corroborating evidence may remedy any memory defects is less likely to be helpful. We also consider the clinical ethical question about a physician's obligation to discuss potential legal consequences of memory dampening treatment. We conclude that this latter question reflects a general problem related to novel medical treatments where the broader socio-legal consequences may be poorly understood, and suggest that issues of this sort could usefully be addressed through the promulgation of practice guidelines


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