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S. Matthew Liao, New York University

Should We Be Erasing Memories?

By S. Matthew Liao, Anders Sandberg, and Julian Savulescu

Scientists from the Medical College of Georgia in the US recently claimed to be able selectively to wipe out traumatic memories. These scientists experimented with mice and found that a particular protein plays a crucial role in the formation of memories. When they made the mice produce an excess of this protein, memories of painful events were completely eliminated.  Such research raises hope for treating conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in which painful memories become intrusive and damage an individual’s ability to live an ordinary life.  In theory, such memories could either have their emotional strength reduced or be blotted out altogether. In practice we are still some distance away from being able to achieve this, but it does not seem unreasonable to think that within the next decade we will be able to control the erasing of memory.

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The Transplant Case in Real Life

Philosophers have long debated about the moral permissibility of Transplant Cases such as the following one presented by Philippa Foot:

A brilliant transplant surgeon has five patients, each in need of a different organ, each of whom will die without that organ. Unfortunately, there are no organs available to perform any of these five transplant operations. A healthy young traveler, just passing through the city the doctor works in, comes in for a routine checkup. In the course of doing the checkup, the doctor discovers that his organs are compatible with all five of his dying patients. Suppose further that if the young man were to disappear, no-one would suspect the doctor.

Most people believe that it is not permissible for the doctor to murder this patient and harvest his organs, although a few consequentialists, e.g. Alastair Norcross, have argued that it might be acceptable under certain circumstances.

In a possible real-life version of the Transplant Case, the New York Times reported recently that Dr. Hootan C. Roozrokh, a transplant surgeon from Stanford, is being charged with ordering the removal of a life-supporting ventilator and prescribing excessive and improper doses of drugs, apparently in an attempt to hasten the death of a disabled and brain damaged man named Ruben Navarro in order to retrieve his organs sooner. 

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