The ethics of biomedical military research: Therapy, prevention, enhancement, and risk

In Daniel Messelken & David Winkler (eds.), Health care in contexts of risk, uncertainty, and hybridity. Berlin: Springer. pp. 235-252 (2021)
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What proper role should considerations of risk, particularly to research subjects, play when it comes to conducting research on human enhancement in the military context? We introduce the currently visible military enhancement techniques (1) and the standard discussion of risk for these (2), in particular what we refer to as the ‘Assumption’, which states that the demands for risk-avoidance are higher for enhancement than for therapy. We challenge the Assumption through the introduction of three categories of enhancements (3): therapeutic, preventive, and pure enhancements. This demands a revision of the Assumption (4), alongside which we propose some further general principles bearing on how to balance risks and benefits in the context of military enhancement research. We identify a particular type of therapeutic enhancements as providing a more responsible path to human trials of the relevant interventions than pure enhancement applications. Finally, we discuss some possible objections to our line of thought (5). While acknowledging their potential insights, we ultimately find them to be unpersuasive, at least provided that our proposal is understood as fully non-coercive towards the candidates for such therapeutic enhancement trials.

Author Profiles

Alexandre Erler
National Yang Ming University
Vincent C. Müller
Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg


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