A recent Commentary in the international science journal NATURE (11 December 2008, vol 456, p.702) discussed the science and ethics of the use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy. As the article pointed out, substances believed to help people control attention, remain alert when working at night or extra house, and learn faster/better are now in widespread off-label use–used by those who do not have the diagnoses for which these substances were developed.
Coercion–pressure to use these substances even if the individual doesn’t want to–is already being applied (for instance, by the Armed Forces for the use of certain stimulants, and by teachers who believe a child will be less trouble in the classroom if put on Ritalin) and employers began to looking at the possibility of enhancing work performance with drugs some years ago. Since coercion by an employer is one of the plot drivers in The Speed of Dark it seemed like a good topic for this blog.
What is “cognitive enhancement” and what kinds of issues should be considered when anyone (disabled or not) faces a decision about the use of pharmacological or any other method of “enhancement?