The Limited Right to Alter Memory

Journal of Medical Ethics, vol. 40, p. 658 (2014)

4 Pages Posted: 13 May 2015 Last revised: 14 May 2015

See all articles by Adam J. Kolber

Adam J. Kolber

Brooklyn Law School; NYU School of Law

Date Written: September 18, 2014


We like to think we own our memories: if technology someday enables us to alter our memories, we should have certain rights to do so. But our freedom of memory has limits. Some memories are simply too valuable to society to allow individuals the unfettered right to change them. Suppose a patient regains consciousness in the middle of surgery. While traumatized by the experience and incapable of speaking, he coincidentally overhears two surgeons make plans to set fire to the hospital. Assuming there is no way to erase his traumatic memories of intraoperative awareness and still prosecute the surgeons, a patient may well have a moral duty to retain the memories for the greater good. And if the patient has such a moral duty, I argue in this brief comment, then the state plausibly has the right to limit our abilities to erase memories when necessary to protect public safety or prosecute offenders.

Keywords: memory, memory dampening, propranolol, enhancement, neuroenhancement

Suggested Citation

Kolber, Adam Jason, The Limited Right to Alter Memory (September 18, 2014). Journal of Medical Ethics, vol. 40, p. 658 (2014). Available at SSRN:

Adam Jason Kolber (Contact Author)

Brooklyn Law School ( email )

250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States

NYU School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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