Imagine being able to strengthen your performance in sports or increase your focus for an exam with the use of a small implant located inside of your brain. Neural implants, a recent medical innovation, may be able to provide its users with these functions in the future. Currently, these devices provide patients with several benefits, which can be seen with Ian Burkhart, a paralyzed man who was able to reanimate his hand through the help of a Brain Computer-Interface implant. As neural implants break out of the sci-fi world and into the medical field, they are constantly being developed to further assist people such as Ian to give them more independence and a better quality of life. The development of neural implants also introduces the idea of using such devices for enhancement purposes rather than medical treatment. This has led ethicists to grapple with the question of whether or not it is ethically permissible to use neural implants for non-therapeutic enhancement. In this paper, the values of fairness and justice will be used to evaluate the debate between enhancement vs. treatment, as well as the societal implications that come along with neuro enhancement to ultimately decide to enhance, or not to enhance
Becoming Superhuman: To Enhance, or not To Enhance?
Ian Burkhart was involved in a tragic accident when he was a freshman in college, leaving him paralyzed from the shoulders down. Life as a quadriplegic was incredibly difficult for him, but living a life locked inside of his own body was not an option. Luckily, Ian was able to receive an unusual form of treatment, a brain implant that claimed to restore small movement in his hands. Although skeptical, Ian decided to undergo the procedure, and the results were a success. Once he learned how to control the device properly, he was able to carry out actions such as transferring water from one container to another, and as time progressed, Ian was able to engage in more independent activities (Baer 2016). Although these may seem like menial tasks to most, Ian’s progress with the use of a neural implant was a big step for not only himself, but for others experiencing the same situation. On Burkhart’s website he states: “I think being apart of these exciting advances in medical technology can give hope that people with my kind of injury won’t just have to settle” (Burkhart 2017) His contributions to the research of neural implants have helped doctors and biomedical engineers further develop these devices, paving the future for a promising medical innovation.
Neural implants are devices that are implanted on the surface of the brain and can be used to communicate with prosthetics, reanimate paralyzed limbs, and treat symptoms of a variety of mental illnesses, such as depression. Groundbreaking medical innovations such as neural implants always come with new questions regarding how it will change the field of medicine for the better or worse. With the introduction of neural implants into the medical field, many people are struggling to decide the appropriate demographic of people in which DBS and BCI are used for. One of the aspects of this decision raises the question of whether or not it is ethically permissible to use neural implants with the goal of non-therapeutic enhancement. Is it fair to receive an operation that will enhance a healthy person’s limbs or cognitive functions, putting them above every other average human? In exploring this question, I will be examining the ethical values of fairness and justice, as they both play extremely important roles regarding both sides of the argument. I will also discuss how such enhancements catalyze drastic changes in society and how it may impact the greater population, rather than a specific individual. Neural implants have the ability to provide life changing treatments for a number of people, but when used as a non-therapeutic form of enhancement it paves the way to a complex set of ethical issues. Therefore, neural implants should be used only in instances in which it is considered to be a medical treatment or therapy, rather than enhancement.
Before diving into the ethical discussion behind the idea of enhancement, it is important to establish critical information about neural implants to help gain a better understanding of the medical innovation that is under evaluation. Neural implants, to start with, are classified as any substance, tissue, or object placed surgically inside of the brain that is usually connected to the brain’s surface or cortex. The brain implants of focus in this paper are Brain Computer/Machine-Interface (BCI/BMI) and Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), both having an estimated cost of $40,000. BCI implants are used to connect signals from the brain to an external device, and they are typically seen in the form of brain-controlled prosthetic limbs. DBS, also known as the pacemakers for the brain, are devices that are used to treat symptoms of chronic movement disorders and tremors from Parkinson’s disease. DBS can also help patients with depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other mental illnesses. It is also crucial to acknowledge that neural implants are seen as a last resort of medical treatment when the quality of one’s life deteriorates beyond what is acceptable with other forms of medical therapy.
BCI and DBS undergo complex processes in order to fulfill their purposes. Brain computer-interface implants utilize a system that analyzes brain signals and translates them into commands. Those commands are then sent to an external device in order to carry out a desired action. There are four steps in the BCI system that turn brain signals into an external movement. The first step is signal acquisition, which is the measurement of brain signals through a sensor. The signals are then amplified so that they can be read clearly when they are digitized and sent to a computer to be processed. The second step is feature extraction, which is when the brain signals are analyzed to separate necessary signals required to carry out an action from extraneous signals. They are also put into a form that is more compact so it can be translated more easily. Step three is feature translation, in which signal features created in the last step are passed to the feature translation algorithm. The algorithm works to convert the signal features into the appropriate command for the output device such as a prosthetic arm (“Brain-Computer Interfaces in Medicine”). Deep Brain Stimulation implants have a less complicated process but are made up of two different devices, one being the brain implant and the other being the actual stimulator which is located near the patient’s clavicle. The neural implant contains electrodes which emit pulses of energy in order to block abnormal brain activity, which can help improve the symptoms of things such as tremors that result from Parkinson’s disease. The second part of the device is a pulse generator or stimulator which is programmed to send electrical pulses to the patient’s brain (“Deep Brain Stimulation”). Although neural implants can provide life changing treatments, they come with risks such as vascular damage and the possibility of a hemorrhage (Prodanov and Delbeke 2016).
One of the main benefits that come with using a brain implant is the fact that it allows those who are disabled to become more independent, as seen with Ian Burkhart with his regained ability to do things such as brushing his own teeth. Currently, BCI is widely used to enable paralyzed patients to carry out simple tasks independently, such as pouring themselves a glass of water. Researchers are working towards developing a BCI implant that will allow paralyzed patients to stand up on their own by performing epidural electrical stimulation to the spinal cord, as explained in “Miniaturized Technologies for Enhancement of Motor Plasticity” (Moorjani 2016). As for Deep Brain Stimulation, it is currently being used to control Tourette’s tics, Parkinson’s disease tremors, OCD, and depression.One of the main disadvantages of using these implants is the fact that they are fairly expensive, meaning that patients who seek medical treatment via neural implant need to prepare to make this investment in their health. In the future many doctors and engineers believe that deep brain stimulation will be able to treat Alzheimer’s, allowing people who suffer from it to have a better quality of life. Although neural implants have merely been used as medical treatment, many predict that the use of neural implants will extend to the enhancement of cognitive and physical functions of individuals that are seen as healthy in the future. Some possibilities may include the enhancement of healthy limbs of an athlete or the increase of focus in a student. Before diving into this ethical discussion, I would like to establish and differentiate some of the common terms used throughout my paper to provide a better understanding of my position on the dilemma at hand.
Enhancement, Treatment, and Health
The distinction between enhancement and treatment in terms of the health of an individual is an integral part to answering the question posed in the introduction. While medical treatment may be seen as a form of enhancement, enhancement is not considered to be a form of treatment for several reasons, and it starts with what these two terms actually mean. Therapy or treatment is a type of procedure or medical intervention that is necessary to restore a patient’s health. With this, it is also important to define what “health” means regarding the difference between the two concepts. When one is considered to be “healthy,” they do not experience any injury, dysfunction, disease, or a disorder (Schwartz 2005). On the other side of the spectrum is enhancement, which can be seen as a medical intervention or procedure that aims to improve one’s mental or physical health beyond what is considered to be normal. Additionally, a person undergoing enhancement is an individual who is already considered to be healthy in the eyes of medical professionals.
When defining enhancement and treatment and establishing the difference between the two, it begins with the patient’s desired outcome. The goal of undergoing a medical treatment is to improve upon the conditions of a medically diagnosed disorder or illness. It is also important to note that medical treatment has the intent of providing individuals with an improved functionality that will bring them to the level of healthy and normal individuals. Enhancement on the other hand, has the end goal of modifying something that lacks appeal. Most importantly, human enhancement is aimed towards the extension of one’s capabilities that go beyond what is considered to be the norm. The distinction between enhancement and treatment sparks the question of what is considered to be normal. Some people may believe that the concept of normal is straightforward, but this term is rather difficult to define, as its meaning is quite malleable. It also varies from person to person depending on their perspective and own experiences. In this paper and for the sake of my argument against the use of neural implants for enhancement, the concept of normal will refer to the average or common state of being, which is similar to the ideologies of Laura Colleton in her article “The Elusive Line between Enhancement and Therapy and Its Effects on Health Care in the U.S.”. To display the parallelism between the use of medications and the use of implants as a form of enhancement, I would like to share a case study about ADHD medication, as using a similar and more well-known situation will allow for better understanding of the ethical dilemma under evaluation.
Catherine has been a straight A student for her entire academic career, and has received several awards for her hard earned achievements. After spending a few months in college, Catherine has found herself struggling with the unmanageable workload that her professors have given her. Her grades begin to drop to levels she never even thought were possible, especially considering her high performance in the past. One day, Catherine was complaining about her academic performance to a friend, when he offered her a quick solution; Ritalin, a medication for Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which would increase her concentration and help improve her grades. Catherine was reluctant to accept his offering, but her grades were extremely important to her, so she decided to take the pills. After a few weeks, Catherine saw that her grades slowly began to improve again, but she did not feel like herself because she knew the grades she received were not solely based on her own academia. She questions her decision on whether or not taking pills was the best option for her, as she found it unfair for other students who put in their own hard work for their grades to compete with someone who is enhancing their concentration via Ritalin pills. As neural implants are breaking out of science fiction and into the real world, many people may face a similar situation to Catherine in the future. Although enhancement of the mind and body may provide someone with the “easy way out,” it truly forces the person to evaluate their morals, and ask themselves whether or not their actions are ethical, which relates to the original question posed in the introduction.
An example of enhancement vs. treatment can be seen in the case study provided when Catherine finds herself in a dilemma regarding the use of cognitive enhancing drugs to boost her grades at school. ADHD medication, such as Ritalin, is used to help individuals living with the disorder to concentrate and perform better in the tasks they need to carry out in order to level the playing field with others. Recently, many students, like Catherine, who do not have ADHD have been using medications to help them amplify their performance in school to get better grades. While ADHD medications provide treatment to those who actually need it, it can become a form of enhancement when it falls into the hands of those looking to extend their capabilities in academics and other settings. This leads individuals to think about how treatment is seen as a “need” while enhancement is seen as a “want” and further establish the differences between the two.The use of ADHD medication, a form of medical treatment, as an enhancement can be applied to the use of neural implants for purpose of allowing individuals to push past the limits of their natural cognitive and physical abilities.
Ethical Values: Fairness
The first ethical value under consideration in answering the question of whether or not it is ethically permissible to use neural implants for non-therapeutic enhancement is fairness. Fairness is a difficult term to define especially when considering that there is no single standpoint of what fairness truly means. What is fair to one person may be unfair to another. Similar to justice, fairness is based upon the circumstances of individuals, as they are given what they need in order to achieve something such as a good quality of life.
In arguing against the use of enhancement of already healthy individuals, the consideration of patients who rely on treatment to live versus those who simply want to enhance their performance must be taken into consideration. Treatments, as stated in the definition previously, are used to normalize an individual’s abnormal functionality in order to improve their quality of life. Enhancement exceeds what is considered to be normal, as it goes beyond the common capabilities of an average healthy human. If patients receiving treatment through a neural implant to help with tasks such as moving their own limbs are met with healthy individuals receiving the same treatment that will further push them away from the idea of “normal,” their treatment would be devalued. The idea of leveling the playing field for them is lost, because the treatment they received to inch closer towards normal functionality, is now considered to be inferior as the new norm is introduced. One operation may be a form of treatment for one person and a form of enhancement for a different person. Going back to the example of the use of ADHD medications for those without the disorder, which is a prominent issue today, one can see how ADHD pills such as Ritalin can provide one student with the treatment they need to meet the level of focus of the majority of their classmates, while another student like Catherine could be using it for the sake of increasing their concentration to surpass the norm. When looking at the situation involving neural implants on a larger scale, it may broaden the gap between the healthy and unhealthy. For example, a quadriplegic is using neural implants to regain movement in their arms may be met with a healthy individual using the same treatment to strengthen their arms beyond their normal capacity. This creates a conflict as those who are unhealthy may continue to struggle to adapt to a world in which people constantly find ways to push the limits of society’s acceptance of what is normal.
As the idea of what is considered to be normal is altered, it will put people who are unable to undergo enhancement at a further disadvantage. The widespread use of this technology will most likely redefine what normal means. Neural implants used for something such as enhanced attention or stronger performance in an academic or work setting relates to the concept of fairness because it allows people to perform better than others through artificial means. This is unfair to those who complete tasks through natural means, with natural being defined as something that is already “present by nature” (OED). One may argue that there will always be a group of people who will not be able to keep up with the evolution of technology and how it is integrated into everyday life, but when the idea of normal changes as more people begin to turn to neural implants as a mode of enhancement, the “unenhanced” will fall behind the rest, which would also be seen in those using neural implants strictly for medical treatment. This may impact people in situations such as their ability to secure a well-paying job, as they will no longer meet certain expectations like those who have neural implants do. When evaluating fairness, one must examine not only the impacts on the individual, but the society as a whole, especially if a large number of people are expected to use neural implants.
Many people also associate using BCI or DBS devices for enhancement as a form of cheating. I believe that it is unfair for an individual to acquire something such as increased concentration through a short cut, especially when it is not essential to their well-being. Similar to cheating, neural enhancement is almost seen as taking the easy way out of an otherwise difficult task to accomplish. When discussing the fact that the use of neural implants for enhancement constitutes cheating, one may question why other forms of enhancement are not seen as unfair. When examining a school setting, for the sake of the case study presented previously, one can argue that a student drinking coffee to stay up all night to study, or another student receiving tutoring to prepare for an exam are also forms of cognitive enhancement, as suggested by Henry T. Greely, J.D (2010). I do respect Greely’s opinion that those are also forms of enhancement that promote unfairness, and that neural implants should not be treated any differently. One may conclude that if things such as caffeine or tutors are in fact responsible for a disparity in grades, they should also be restricted to a specific group of users. However, they are not to the same degree of using cognitive enhancing drugs such as Ritalin or Adderall or medical innovations such as deep brain stimulation, as they do not alter the brain’s function to the same extent. Because these enhancements do not produce results that are as extreme as using a drug or an implant in your brain, many people including myself do not deem such actions as unfair in comparison to DBS or ritalin.
The use of neural implants for cognitive or physical enhancement is unfair. As stated previously, enhancement provides an individual using the neural implant with capabilities that go beyond their normal functions, which is unfair to others who rely on natural means. If societies adopt this technology into everyday life, it risks the possibility of devaluing the treatments of those who use neural implants to help with symptoms of certain disorders to increase their quality of life. As the idea of normal is challenged by the widespread use of this innovation, people who are seeking neural implants as a form of treatment in order to “level the playing field,” between them and individuals considered to be healthy, will again be put at a disadvantage as the parameters of normal rapidly change. It is also important to consider that when people use neural implants to boost their performance, it constitutes cheating, as it provides an individual with several advantages that others do not have. While neural implants do provide several benefits medically speaking the use of it for enhancement is unfair as it creates an unnatural gain over those who do not use such a device.
Ethical Values: Justice
According to Aristotle, justice is seen as “a complete virtue in its fullest sense” (Pirni, 2014). When discussing the aspect of justice regarding the use of neural implants for non-therapeutic enhancement, both the utilitarian and egalitarian facets will be examined. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that determines what action that will produce the “most good” (Driver 2014). The “right” or more “ethical” action is based upon the idea of choosing the more favorable consequence for the greatest number of people. In more simple terms, it is the balance of creating the most happiness in a given situation while deterring from as much unhappiness as possible. If neural implants are to become more common among certain groups of people in society, the uneven demographic of distribution of this sort of technology will create another barrier for those who are already experiencing several disadvantages, whether it is in relation to their socioeconomic status or health. When using a utilitarian approach to weigh the costs and benefits of neural implants, it required the examination of the societal implications, which will be discussed in more depth in a later section. While the use of neural implants for enhancement may bring several benefits such as better memory or attention to those who can afford such an expensive device, others are left in the shadows of those who revel in the advantages that this innovation brings. As stated before, this may exacerbate the gap between people of upper class, and people of middle to lower classes. Ethicists have even suggested the idea that, “some will secretly avail themselves of enhancement to intentionally disadvantage others” (Kapustij and Frankel). I believe that it is better to leave neural implants as a form of medical treatment than as an enhancement considering that it would create happiness and more a satisfactory result for the greatest amount of people who would be impacted by the use of neural implants. This idea comes from the previous point of creating more obstacles for people who already may struggle with money or their health.
Another point of view to introduce to the value of justice is egalitarianism. Egalitarianism stands upon the foundation that “all human persons are equal in fundamental worth or moral status” (Arenson 2002). Depending on how one views what neural implants should be used for, they can use this concept to either argue for or against the use of such technology for human enhancement. One who values the idea of justice through taking an egalitarian approach to defend using neural implants in favor of enhancement may suggest that all people should be given the opportunity to use neural implants. This is because it gives everyone equal opportunities to access this resource. While this is a viable view, as a person who is against the use of neural implants for enhancement, I support the ideology that the distribution of neural implants should be based on the idea of need rather than want. As stated in the section discussing fairness, the purpose of introducing medical innovations like neural implants is to provide those who are disabled with a treatment that would level the playing field between them and the general population. This gives them more equal opportunities of independence and a better quality of life. If everyone is provided with the same treatment as someone like Ian Burkhart (refer to introduction) to further advance their capabilities, whether they are cognitive or physical, it may rid patients of their once equal or close-to-equal opportunities achieved through neural implants. For example, if neural implants become a new treatment for those with learning disabilities, those using it as a form of treatment may encounter peers using the same device to enhance their academic performance. This may create a new struggle for those with learning disabilities as they try to keep up with other newly enhanced students, which eliminates the idea of leveling the playing field.
In a world with neuroenhancement, those who are disadvantaged may be limited in things such as academics and employment more than they would have been in a world without neuroenhancement because of the rising standards on what is perceived as normal. One who is in favor of the idea of using neural implants for the sake of enhancement may suggest the idea that the even distribution of neural implants will not have the power to rid societies of other forms of injustice that are more complex than the topic of discussion, and may question why the use of this medical innovation would be any different. While this statement is true, neural implants will only add onto the pile of injustices that people face on a day to day basis. To ensure that the use of neural implants in a society will not create further injustices, it should be restricted to medical treatment to improve upon a patient’s symptoms, instead of broadening the disparities between those of different social and economic status.
The overcompensation for cognitive and physical abilities that these devices provide its users with exacerbates the injustices and inequality that this society currently experiences. In examining both the utilitarian and egalitarian approaches to the justice component of the question posed, the greater population of middle and lower class would not benefit from the use of neural implants for enhancement because of economic barriers, which allows those who are able to use this innovation to reap the benefits while they are burdened with more disadvantages. Although I do acknowledge the idea that providing everyone with equal access to BCI or DBS devices and adjusting them according to everyone’s needs could be a simple resolution to get rid of the issue of injustice, it will be too expensive to provide such an innovation to large masses of people. The idea of supply and demand must also be considered. As people gain more interest in neural implants, resources will become more scarce, leading to increased prices. As the prices get higher, neural implants for enhancement will become a luxury that only the wealthy can afford. Therefore, it is best to focus on the medical benefits that this innovation could bring, allowing many people to experience a better quality of life.
Societal Implications of Enhancement
One of the driving forces behind the objection towards the use of neural implants for enhancement is the fact that it not only affects the individual user, but other stakeholders involved in their life. If neural implants do become as widespread as they are predicted to be, it could have a negative impact on society. The first consideration is how neural implants may create a divide between those who are given opportunities to enhance themselves and those who are not. Many assume that the first people to be able to gain access to enhanced physical or cognitive functionalities provided by neural implants will be those of an affluent status, thus the difference between socioeconomic backgrounds may become more evident as this new medical innovation is introduced. This means that it will be harder for people of lower economic backgrounds to keep up with the rapid pace of innovations that will further enhance those who can afford it, leading to a greater disparity between social classes and how they are viewed in society, specifically from the perspective of an American society.
With the shift in society that may occur with advanced forms of enhancement, it introduces the idea of the loss of certain human values, specifically the value of hard work. One may argue that the values a society holds are constantly changing as the years progress and new circumstances are introduced. While this ideology is true, the accomplishments of a person who relies on the use of neuroenhancement may lose its social value, especially from the perspective of a society that typically endorses hard work. Referring back to the case study, Catherine’s grades improve drastically after using medication to enhance her focus. When re-evaluating her actions, she realizes that she no longer values her education in the same way she did before utilizing Ritalin, because achieving her academic goal of getting good grades has almost become too easy through the use of a cognitive shortcut. Although Catherine still valued her grades, the desire to work hard and study to achieve such grades were replaced with Ritalin and was no longer needed.
To add another dimension to the case study, one may consider the fact that the use of other cognitive enhancement methods may become widespread around campus, and as grades increase through this cognitive shortcut, the values of the students will shift drastically, similar to the way Catherine’s values did. Now, looking at cognitive enhancement through more sophisticated means such as deep brain stimulation, it may alter the definition of what it means to work hard, as tasks considered to be difficult, such as taking an exam, are now seen as easily achievable. This can also be displayed in the physical aspects of brain implants with the use of Brain Computer-Interface for the enhancement of physical functions. Like cognitive enhancement, physical enhancement can also boost the performance of individuals, allowing them to complete tasks without enduring as may struggles as those who rely on their natural capabilities. This can be seen with workers who may need a lot of physical strength to complete their jobs. With the additional physical assistance gained through these technologies as they become more developed, it will allow these workers to compete more physically demanding acts with less effort. This may leave those who do not condone the use of such technologies behind, as they are unable to keep up with the workload of those who are enhanced.
The introduction to enhancement technologies in a society may also lead people to adopt the belief of the need to constantly push beyond one’s own natural boundaries and to pursue perfection.While the perfection varies from person to person, it is widely accepted as the idea achieving flawlessness. Turning to neural implants may allow them to make this goal more feasible. When conducting the Bioethics Symposium, we surveyed the room and asked our audience what words they associated with the concept of perfection. Many people noted that striving towards perfection gave them a feeling of self-hatred and lack of authenticity, so trying to aim for something that only brings a wave of negative emotions may not be what’s best for individuals and society as a whole. People using this technology merely for the purpose of enhancement rather than medical treatment are seen as people trying to reach the unrealistic idea of perfection that they have illustrated in their minds. The idea of society as a whole trying to reach the goal of perfection is not only impractical, but also unhealthy, as seen through the emotions that perfection promotes.
Many people bring up the idea that neuroenhancement via implant could bring many benefits to society, such as the increased level of performance of people in the workplace, which will have a positive impact on the overall economy. Another benefit could be better education, as seen through Catherine in the case study. While Catherine’s values led her to reevaluate her actions, others may believe that enhancing your academia through artificial means is ethically permissible, as they hold the value of education very close to them. While I concede the benefits that neural implant enhancements may bring, I want to reiterate that neural implants will most likely create more problems within a society, such as the alienation of those who do not undergo forms of neuroenhancement.
To answer the question posed in the introduction, I believe that it is unethical to use neural implants as a way to enhance a normal or healthy aspect of yourself in order to surpass the average capabilities of a regular human. An important feature I took under consideration to reach my conclusion was how it would impact the greater community, rather than specific individuals. When analyzing the impact on society that neural implants may prompt, such as the idea of exacerbating the differences between upper and middle to lower class citizens, the benefits that they could possibly provide become outweighed. The extensive use of brain computer-interface or deep brain stimulation for non-therapeutic enhancement may also promote the loss of cherished human values such as hard work in order to accomplish one’s goals. Neural implants may provide one with functionalities to make this goal more attainable through less work, which is less valuable since they did not have to endure a journey of hardships to reach their desired destination. Giving people to ability to choose the strength of their cognitive functions or limbs allows them to approach the idea of what they may consider to be perfect, which as observed in the symposium, only promotes feelings of negativity. Rather than allowing neural implants to introduce more complications into a society already tangled in conflict, it is better to reserve such devices for therapeutic purposes.
I also believe that neural implants should not be used for enhancement because I support the ethical values of fairness and justice. The constant alteration of the idea of normal may impact those who receive neural implants for therapeutic purposes. As more people begin to enhance themselves neurologically, those with disabilities may struggle to keep up, even with the assistance of BCI or DBS implants, putting them at a greater disadvantage than they already experience. Cheating is also introduced under the umbrella of fairness when discussing neural implants, specifically in reference to the use of cognitive enhancement. It has a parallel situation to individuals using ADHD pills who do not have the disorder to enhance their concentration to pass an exam. In the physical facet of neural implant enhancement, one may use a BCI implant to enhance the strength of their legs so they could run faster. Both of these methods are seen as cheating because it provides individuals with unfair advantages that others do not have, as they push beyond the boundaries of their given capabilities. Therefore, I find that the use of neural implants to boost cognitive or physical function to be unfair.
When discussing justice, which is quite similar to fairness, I examined both the utilitarian and egalitarian approach when defending my position against the use of neural implants for enhancement. Utilitarianism, the idea of choosing the action that will benefit the greater good, supports my opinion because although neural implants may bring several benefits to its users, the impact on those who are unable to afford it may exacerbate the injustices that many people of middle to lower classes experience today, and should strictly be used for medical treatment. In order to enforce this idea doctors should be prohibited to perform any operations that will result in cognitive or physical enhancement of already healthy individuals via neural implant. . Egalitarianism is a branch of justice that is based on providing people with equal opportunities. While one may use egalitarianism to argue that everyone should be given the opportunity to use neural implants whether it is for enhancement or medical treatment, from my perspective, I believe that neural implants provide an equal opportunity for those who are disabled to live independently and to have a good quality of life (as defined on their terms). This approach supports the opposition to neuroenhancement, as it aligns with the idea that neural implants should only be used to fulfill the needs of patients, rather than the wants of healthy individuals because it will help level the playing field between those who are healthy and those who are disabled. The possible unfairness and injustice that neural implants may lead to further justifies my position in this manner.
Neural implants present several benefits such as providing limb motion for those living with paralysis, and improving the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease tremors, but when introduced as a form of enhancement, it raises several ethical concerns regarding its negative impact on society, and the values of justice and fairness. Even Catherine, as highlighted in the case study, felt as though she lost a grip on her morals when using Ritalin, an ADHD medication, to achieve the grades she desired. Her dilemma could be translated to the enhancement of one’s cognitive of physical abilities via neural implants and how it may impact their own values and sense of self to a more detrimental degree. In the future I would like to further explore other ethical dilemmas that arise with the use of neural implants, specifically the topic of brain jacking also known as neural implant hacking. The idea that neural implant users are vulnerable to hacking introduces issues regarding privacy, autonomy, and safety. Neural implants are a promising medical innovation that can provide new forms of treatment to many individuals, but as a method of non-therapeutic enhancement it should be impermissible as it presents a series of dilemmas to individual users and other stakeholders.