“Psychological Kevlar” for U.S. troops in Iraq?

AlterNet reports that Big Pharma is promoting the use of a “mourning after pill” and other medications to help numb U.S. soldiers to the horrors of war — giving troops so-called “psychological Kevlar.” An excerpt:

Propranalol, if taken immediately following a traumatic event, can subdue a victim’s stress response and so soften his or her perception of the memory. That does not mean the memory has been erased, but proponents claim that the drug can render it emotionally toothless…

But is it moral to weaken memories of horrendous acts a person has committed? Some would say that there is no difference between offering injured soldiers penicillin to prevent an infection and giving a drug that prevents them from suffering from a posttraumatic stress injury for the rest of their lives.

Others, like Leon Kass, former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, object to propranolol’s use on the grounds that it medicates away one’s conscience. “It’s the morning-after pill for just about anything that produces regret, remorse, pain or guilt,” he says.

Barry Romo, a national coordinator for Vietnam Veterans Against the War, is even more blunt. “That’s the devil pill,” he says. “That’s the monster pill, the anti-morality pill. That’s the pill that can make men and women do anything and think they can get away with it. Even if it doesn’t work, what’s scary is that a young soldier could believe it will.”

Frankly, I think both sides may be overstating the effects of propranolol. But it is an interesting ethical dilemma. Does deadening or reducing the psychological trauma of war also damage one’s moral compass?

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