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Med Health Care Philos. 2007 Jun;10(2):141-51. Epub 2007 May 8.

Memory enhancing drugs and Alzheimer's disease: enhancing the self or preventing the loss of it?

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  • 1Department of Ethics, Philosophy and History of Medicine 137, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, PO Box 9101, 6500 HB, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


In this paper we analyse some ethical and philosophical questions related to the development of memory enhancing drugs (MEDs) and anti-dementia drugs. The world of memory enhancement is coloured by utopian thinking and by the desire for quicker, sharper, and more reliable memories. Dementia is characterized by decline, fragility, vulnerability, a loss of the most important cognitive functions and even a loss of self. While MEDs are being developed for self-improvement, in Alzheimer's Disease (AD) the self is being lost. Despite this it is precisely those patients with AD and other forms of dementia that provide the subjects for scientific research on memory improvement. Biomedical research in the field of MEDs and anti-dementia drugs appears to provide a strong impetus for rethinking what we mean by 'memory', 'enhancement', 'therapy', and 'self'. We conclude (1) that the enhancement of memory is still in its infancy, (2) that current MEDs and anti-dementia drugs are at best partially and minimally effective under specific conditions, (3) that 'memory' and 'enhancement' are ambiguous terms, (4) that there is no clear-cut distinction between enhancement and therapy, and (5) that the research into MEDs and anti-dementia drugs encourages a reductionistic view of the human mind and of the self.

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