Propranolol and the Prevention of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Is It Wrong to Erase the "Sting" of Bad Memories?
Fishman, Jennifer R.
Youngner, Stuart J.
American Journal of Bioethics 2007 September; 7(9): 12-20
The National Institute of Mental Health (Bethesda, MD) reports that approximately 5.2 million Americans experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) each year. PTSD can be severely debilitating and diminish quality of life for patients and those who care for them. Studies have indicated that propranolol, a beta-blocker, reduces consolidation of emotional memory. When administered immediately after a psychic trauma, it is efficacious as a prophylactic for PTSD. Use of such memory-altering drugs raises important ethical concerns, including some futuristic dystopias put forth by the President's Council on Bioethics. We think that adequate informed consent should facilitate ethical research using propranolol and, if it proves efficacious, routine treatment. Clinical evidence from studies should certainly continue to evaluate realistic concerns about possible ill effects of diminishing memory. If memory- attenuating drugs prove effective, we believe that the most immediate social concern is the over-medicalization of bad memories, and its subsequent exploitation by the pharmaceutical industry.
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