Bioethics Blogs

What are the ethics of using brain stimulation technologies for ‘enhancement’ in children?

New open access publication: announcement:

In a recently published article, Hannah Maslen, Roi Cohen Kadosh, Julian Savulescu and I present an argument about the permissible (and not-so-permissible) uses of non-invasive brain stimulation technology in children. We consider both children who may be suffering from a specific neurological disorder, for whom the stimulation is intended as a ‘treatment’, and those who are otherwise healthy, for whom the stimulation is intended as ‘enhancement’. For the full article and citation, see here:

Maslen, H., Earp, B. D., Cohen Kadosh, R., & Savulescu, J. (2014). Brain stimulation for treatment and enhancement in children: An ethical analysisFrontiers in Human Neuroscience, Vol. 8, Article 953, 1-5.

Although in previous work we have argued that the treatment/enhancement distinction tends to break down in the case of adults, in the case of children, we argue, it may have some normative force. Specifically: “As the intervention moves away from being a treatment toward being an enhancement—and thus toward a more uncertain weighing of the benefits, risks, and costs—considerations of the child’s best interests (as judged by the parents) diminish, and the need to protect the child’s (future) autonomy looms larger.” Of course, we don’t see either “treatment” or “enhancement” as having either a clear definition (in terms of what they pick out), or distinct ethical implications in and of themselves; rather, we see “treatment” as referring to interventions whose benefit-to-harm ratio is comparatively uncontroversial (with the benefits outweighing the harms), while we see “enhancement” as referring to interventions whose benefit-to-harm ratio is more heavily influenced by subjective factors.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.