Bioethics Blogs

Web Roundup: Moral enhancement by Jane Roberts

This month’s web round up focuses on notions of treatment as enhancement…or vice versa? I’ve recently come off a stretch of spending quite a lot of time reading up on debates surrounding behavioral disorders in children. One issue that seems to crop up repeatedly is whether the use of medications in these young populations, particularly those living with ADHD, is merely treatment for the problem, or increasing the normalization of enhancement in an era where, for many, being ‘enough’ just isn’t enough anymore .

A recent article proposed that the millennial generation is more concerned with self- improvement and holds higher self-expectations than any generation before. Academic and social pressures, especially in those who have spent more of their formative years on social media, play into a wider societal expectation that one should be the best that they can possibly be using whatever means are available. The use of medications like Adderall for treatment of ADHD has long been indicated, but in this era of striving for self- improvement, such medications have moved from the realm of treatment to that of performance enhancer. The rise of the good grade pill is how the New York Times characterized a trend in high school students taking Adderall to gain an academic edge, while a growing percentage of doctors are willing prescribe Adderall to help in school, especially to those kids who are at an economic disadvantage.

This idea of academic performance enhancement via pharmaceutical means has been with us for a while, but what seems to be having its moment now is the notion of moral enhancement- the very sci-fi sounding possibility that behavior can be changed to something more morally acceptable through the use of a pill.

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.