Tuesday, June 19, 2007

 

Memories

I watched 60 Minutes Sunday night. It appeared to be a repeat. One of the stories was about a drug that helps to erase memory. According to the report, memories stick best when accompanied by adrenaline. That's what makes stressful situations stick with us; the adrenaline locks them in place. One of the women interviewed had been raped by her doctor when she was 12 years old. This horrifying memory haunted her, affected her functioning for over 30 years, until she was given this drug (called propranolol), which shut off the physical after-effects of the memory. It wasn't that she didn't remember the rape; it's just that the drug gave her enough distance from it so that it didn't continue to rule her life.

Also on the program was an ethicist who worried that giving people a memory-erasing drug would cause them to lose a formative part of themselves. He also worried that doctors would start prescribing it for stupid stuff, like when someone drinks to much at a party and wants to forget the foolish way he acted. While it is true that stressful events help to shape us, I think that after a certain point, the emotions from them get in the way of true living, as they did for the woman who was raped. Thirty years! That's an awful amount of time to have to spend reliving a rape. If we're worried about whether a stressful situation has had a formative enough effect on a person, perhaps there could be a waiting period - a year or so, as long as the person isn't suicidal or homicidal from the event. As for the idea that doctors might overprescribe the drug, frankly, we deal with that with every other drug on the market. That's not the drug's fault. That's the fault of doctors and society.

See this link for more about propranolol and the memory-erasing discussion.

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