Ethically justified, clinically applicable criteria for physician decision-making in psychopharmacological enhancement

Neuroethics 2 (2):89-102 (2009)
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Abstract

Advances in psychopharmacology raise the prospects of enhancing neurocognitive functions of humans by improving attention, memory, or mood. While general ethical reflections on psychopharmacological enhancement have been increasingly published in the last years, ethical criteria characterizing physicians’ role in neurocognitive enhancement and guiding their decision-making still remain highly unclear. Here it will be argued that also in the medical domain the use of cognition-enhancing drugs is not intrinsically unethical and that, in fact, physicians should assume an important role in gating their usage. For finding normative orientation, concepts of disease, normality or medicine will not be helpful since—due to their cryptonormative nature—they rather hamper than allow targeted discussion and decision-making. As an alternative, the common and widely accepted bioethical criteria of beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy and distributive justice allow a clinically applicable, highly differentiated context- and case-sensitive approach. By embedding decision-making in a participative physician–patient relationship extrinsic objections against neurocognitive enhancement (e.g. invalid perceptions about efficacy, benefit or risk; questionable voluntariness; restrained decision-making capacity) can be curtailed.

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