the view of the SAB, the technical discussion on the potential use of toxic chemicals for law enforcement purposes has been exhaustive.”54 The associated ethical and societal issues related to military and law enforcement applications are taken up in Chapter 3.

2.3.3 Ethical, Legal, and Societal Questions and Implications

Informed and Voluntary Consent to Use

The widely accepted moral principle of autonomy prohibits nonvoluntary neurotechnological interventions without informed consent or its moral equivalent. Nonetheless, it is clear that some feel impelled to accept such interventions regardless of the low likelihood that their personal goals would be realized. For example, there is little evidence that drug therapies for conditions like ADHD improve academic performance, although the off-label use of medications like Ritalin by college students surely has much to do with the notion that their performance might be improved.

The very term “human enhancement” could beg the question of the actual net benefits of claimed “enhancements.” Their social implications need to be examined on a case-by-case basis. Exaggerated claims about cognitive enhancement, or even accurate statements about short-term benefits, could lead to an increase in addictions due to competitive pressures. Differences in socioeconomic status related to contingent advantages like opportunities for acquiring new skills could be exacerbated by unequal access to enhancing technologies.

In the military, both competitive and coercive pressures are uniquely pronounced. In general, persons in uniform are required to accept interventions that commanders believe will maintain their fitness for duty or enable them to return to duty. In some circumstances, warfighters might even be required to accept medical interventions otherwise regarded as “experimental,” or at least not validated for a particular purpose, if there is a sound basis for believing that they could be of benefit if forces are threatened. A real-world example is described in Box 2.2.

As useful military technologies proliferate, including those that in some sense enhance normal cognitive functions, veterans may face the prospect of adjusting to civilian life without those advantages. The tragic


54 Scientific Advisory Board, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, “Report of the Scientific Advisory Board on Developments in Science and Technology for the Third Special Session of the Conference of States Parties to Review the Operation of the Chemical Weapons Convention,” RC-3/DG.1, 2012, p. 21, available at

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement