Bioethics Blogs

Should we medicate healthy children to fight social inequality?

by Sebastian Sebastian, PhD

A proposed solution seeks a quick fix, without tackling the deep roots of the problem.

It’s a statistic that seems almost unbelievable: the richest one percent now has more wealth than the rest of the world combined, according to an Oxfam report. Inequality exists between nations such as Great Britain and Sudan, within different social strata in countries such as the United States, and on lower levels of societal entities, like within the city of Chicago. Economic inequality diminishes the life chances of an incredibly high number of individuals with respect to nutrition, housing, health care, education and so on. In the long run, it can result in the implosion of social cohesion. The Oxfam report illustrates how the economic gap has grown in the last five years. The consequences of the social gap have an especially negative effect on poor children and may rob them of their open futures.

In a target article in one of the leading bioethics-journals, Baylor University’s Keisha Ray pessimistically states that society is unwilling to close this social gap through more funding for low-performing schools, better training and payment for teachers, or updating teaching resources. What if we instead provided poor children with pills that are believed to enhance their cognitive functioning, with the goal of helping them perform better at school? Ray proposes that providing healthy poor and disadvantaged children with stimulants that doctors usually prescribe for children with diseases (such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD) could enhance their opportunities.

Her proposal might be well-intentioned, but it is no solution to the problem of social inequality, as I argue in a comment written with Ilina Singh, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oxford.

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.