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The Ethical Implications of Cognitive Enhancement

posted May 15, 2009, 5:38 PM by Manhattan Hunter Science High School Newsletter   [ updated May 16, 2009, 6:12 PM ]
By: Sheikh Moeez Ahmed (Grade 10)

        Cognitive enhancement is very popular in today’s society. Some use it in order to do well on their SAT exam. Some use it in order to be admitted into a world class university or medical school. There are various ways of brain enhancement today. It can be acquired from virtually anywhere illegally. Is cognitive enhancement unethical? It is very controversial currently. Many people are abusing the therapeutic drugs that are used in patients with psychological disabilities for the means of enhancement.

        There are many ways to enhance the human brain. Some use machines to increase electrical activity in the prefrontal cortex. How? A metal helmet is worn that is then electromagnetically charged and placed at the part of the brain where more activity of neurons is desired. However, there are side effects to this therapy. Seizures can emerge because the neurons are more active than usual after this enhancement. Others use drugs such as Ritalin, which is the most widely used drug among people according to statistics. Ritalin is a cognitive enhancement drug that does well only momentarily. It has many side effects which are very difficult to study. There about twenty different side effects already identified such as seizures, paranoia, anxiety, high blood pressure, heart problems, and sudden death from stroke, but there can be more symptoms. Permanent damage to the nervous system is inevitable according to some researchers, if used merely for enhancement, which is improving brain function with no abnormalities and not for therapeutic purposes which is improving brain function with abnormalities. It is very difficult to test this drug because it is difficult to distinguish in the experiment who actually needs the drug and who should be given placebo. It is very difficult to even attempt to test to see what the long-term effects are. Taking these drugs for an extended period of time can cause a lot of damage to the body just for the sake of increasing the rate of activity of the neurons. The drug leaves its mark everywhere, even for the patient who actually needs it. Ritalin also has narcotics effects and it is addicting substance as heroine or cocaine according to biochemists. Today, high school students are acquiring this drug from college students illegally. College students acquire these drugs illegally by for instance purchasing these drugs from someone who was prescribed for this drug.

        Is it unethical? Should there be laws to impose against it? Were drugs simply created for society to heal or to enhance? Is this changing the meaning of medicine? For example if a student takes a cognitive enhancement drug before taking an SAT exam and he/she scored a 2300 versus a student who does not take the drug and also scores 2300, can this change the meaning of hard work? A person who takes this drug does not have to work as hard as a person who actually scored the same score. This can be considered cheating to an extent because it is inequitable for the person who is naturally smart.

        It is healthier to use alternative food based methods of cognitive enhancement. One can consume a green tea leaf, which rejuvenate the neurons and calms the mind. People can also engage in solving difficult puzzles, which keeps the neurons more active, therefore enhancing your ability to perform better. One can also drink more water because the brain is primarily water and do more math problems which exercise the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. Overall, cognitive enhancement can be debated as unethical and scientifically it is very unhealthy if used simply for the means of enhancement.