Category: Health and Technology

An Ethical Look At Cognitive Stimulants, Part 1

adderallIS“Every era has its own defining drug.” – Margaret Talbot

With the high availability of so-called “cognitive enhancing drugs” like Ritalin, Adderall, and Provigil on college campuses, students everywhere are facing the choice of whether or not to take non-prescribed medications to help them “perform better” in school. Studies show that anywhere between 20-35% of college students have used one of these medications without a prescription in their college career, but an informal survey would likely reveal an even higher percentage, as the use of these medications is on the rise.  Many claim these drugs help them concentrate, study longer, and juggle more tasks by creating more productive hours in the day.  Others rely on them in a crunch, during midterms, finals, or the night before a big test, when the clock is ticking and assignments are due, and there doesn’t seem to be enough time –or brain power–to get everything that needs to get done, done.

The question of whether to use these “cognitive enhancing drugs” poses many ethical concerns– some rooted in the very immediate and direct impact of these drugs on the developing brains of young people, and some rooted more in what these drugs say philosophically about the direction our society is headed in.  And with the rate of use tripling within the past ten years, along with the fact that dozens of new cognitive stimulants are currently in the pharmaceutical pipeline, it seems an important issue to examine.  Should we embrace the use of these drugs, in hopes of them making us smarter, more efficient, and more productive?  Or should we be wary of using them, concerned with the risks that they pose not only to our brains, but to our own personal and societal values?

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An Ethical Look At Cognitive Stimulants, Part 2, Guest Post by Dr. Sean Hatt

Prescription PillsWho decides what’s right, what is socially appropriate, and what is societally acceptable when it comes to the use of things that alter your brain function?

It’s interesting to consider how we decide what the rules are about which drugs are deemed socially acceptable and which ones are not.  We condone (not only condone, but actively rely on) certain substances like caffeine, guzzling down cups of coffee and cans of Red Bull without a second thought about their “ethical implications.”  We condemn marijuana as illegal but allow a much more dangerous drug – alcohol – to be consumed at will after the age of 21.  We think it’s permissible to use coffee and chain-smoking cigarettes to pull an all nighter to complete work but would gape at someone snorting a line of cocaine for the same reason.  How are these lines we draw–the ones that call a certain brain-altering substance taboo and another one completely embraceable– determined?  Do they involve a careful assessment of their effects on the brain?   A standardized measure of risks?  Do they come from some subjective evaluation grandfathered in by socially determined forces?

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Genetics, Privacy, and The Web

genomeDid you know that with $399 and a tube of your saliva, you can find out your genetic predispositions for disease, personality traits, and what medications might work best for you?  Or with $149, you can check out your genetic family heritage?  How about that for less than $1,000, you will soon be able to get your entire genome mapped?

And what does this mean to you? It seems fair to say that currently, most people don’t concern themselves with their genetic profiles in their day-to-day lives.  Surely we read about genetics in the media: what genes are linked with what traits, what advancements are being made in the field of medicine with the growing knowledge of genetic information.  But our society certainly doesn’t conduct itself like the science-fiction movie Gattaca, where each person is branded with his or her genetic likelihoods from birth and assigned societal roles accordingly. We are generally oblivious to our own genetic profiles, and pay selective attention to findings about genes mostly when faced with a pressing health problem.  For the most part, we carry on our lives with little knowledge about our own genetic makeup and what that information might tell us about ourselves.

This, however, is changing.

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Ethical Issues With Prenatal and Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis by Professor Lawrence Nelson

iStock_000000396261XSmallIt’s not science fiction. Nowadays prospective parents cannot only know the sex of their unborn child but also learn whether it can supply tissue-matched bone marrow to a dying sibling and whether it is predisposed to develop breast cancer or Huntington’s disease — all before the embryo gets implanted into the mother’s womb.” -Esthur Landhuis

Have you heard of “designer babies”?  Or perhaps you saw or read My Sister’s Keeper, a story about a young girl who was conceived through In Vitro Fertilization to be a genetically matched donor for her older sister with leukemia? The concept of selecting  traits for one’s child comes from a technology called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a technique used on embryos acquired during In Vitro Fertilization to screen for genetic diseases.  PGD tests embryos for genetic abnormalities, and based on the information gleaned, provides potential parents with the opportunity to select to implant only the “healthy”, non-genetically diseased embryos into the mother.  But this genetic testing of the embryo also opens the door for other uses as well, including selecting whether you have a male or female child, or even the possibility of selecting specific features for the child, like eye color.  Thus, many ethicists wonder about the future of the technology, and whether it will lead to babies that are “designed” by their parents.

Today’s post is an exploration of the ethical issues raised by prenatal and preimplantation genetic diagnosis, written by Santa Clara Professor Dr. Lawrence Nelson, who has been writing about and teaching bioethics for over 30 years.  Read on to examine the many ethical issues raised by this technology.

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What Ethical Issues Are Raised By Advertisements for Egg Donors?

donor“Help loving couples conceive a child! Seeking egg donors with a clear health history, GPA 3.6+ and above 1350 on SAT.  Must play a musical instrument.  $10,00 Compensation.”

Have you seen an ad like this in your local college newspaper?  Chances are if you leaf through the classified sections of any elite university, you’ll find one just like it.  The advertisements, placed by couples or agencies looking for women to donate their eggs to be used to help couples conceive through In Vitro Fertilization, appear in college classifieds across the country.  They are notoriously featured at Ivy League schools, often targeting high achieving women with superior grades and test scores, offering anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 for highly qualified donors.  Many call for specific qualities in their donors:  “Donor ideally has artistic skills, as intended mother is a talented oil painter and piano player,” reads one.

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Health and Technology: An Overview

227030816_b545ac2489In the United States, technology is deeply integrated into nearly every aspect of maintaining and treating health.  What influence do these technologies have on how we diagnose, treat, and view disease? How does technology shape the way we approach and treat health overall?

It is undeniable that medical technologies have saved countless lives and contributed to great advances in medicine.  But famed integrative medicine doctor Andrew Weil takes the view that medical technologies have drawbacks that are not often acknowledged.  He says:

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Welcome To The Technological Citizen!

technology-and-human-communication

The Technological Citizen is a forum to explore and exchange ideas about the issues that arise from modern technologies. A wide variety of topics will be explored, including the ethics of cognitive enhancement, genetic testing, and biotechnologies, as well as the way in which technology impacts our relationship with other people, the environment, and ourselves.

Postings will fall under five basic categories:

Technology and Society
Technology and The Environment
Neuroethics
Ethical Issues in Health and Biotechnology
The Future of Technology

If you are interested in seeing all the posts on one particular topic, please click on that topic heading under “Categories”.

Thanks for checking out the blog! I look forward to hearing your ideas about these topics.

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