Combat Trauma and the Moral Risks of Memory Manipulating Drugs

Journal of Applied Philosophy 27 (3):221-245 (2010)
Abstract
To date, 1.7 million US military service personnel have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those, one in five are suffering from diagnosable combat-stress related psychological injuries including Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). All indications are that the mental health toll of the current conflicts on US troops and the medical systems that care for them will only increase. Against this backdrop, research suggesting that the common class of drugs known as beta-blockers might prevent the onset of PTSD is drawing much interest. I urge caution against accepting too quickly the use of beta-blockers for dealing with the psychological injuries that combat experiences can wreak. Beta-blockers are thought to work by disrupting the formation of emotionally disturbing memories that typically occur in the wake of traumatic events and that in some people manifest as PTSD. Focusing on a single dimension of soldiers' experience in combat, namely, their perpetration of other-directed violence, I argue that some of the emotional memories blunted by beta-blockers play important roles in the recovery of moral aspects of soldiers' selves damaged by experiences of combat violence — specifically, in the achievement of a state of grace— and, therefore, that the use of beta-blockers may come with distinct moral costs
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