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Academic Ethical Dilemma: Learning Enhancement Through Chemistry

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Academic Ethical Dilemma: Learning Enhancement Through Chemistry

There is a trend occurring in the academic world that is gaining in popularity and has many in the academic world worried. This trend is the increase use of drugs to enhance the brain's ability to not only work harder, longer and faster but also to retain that knowledge. "Doping" is no longer the exclusive realm of sports professionals" (Block,2003). Not only does this create opportunities for today's students to excel but it also creates some major ethical issues to be addressed.

There are two popular drugs that are reported to be at the forefront of this trend: Ritalin, which is used to control hyperactivity in children and Modafinil, which is used to treat narcolepsy. It is important to remember that these drugs should only be dispensed with a prescription and for a specified condition (i.e. hyperactivity, narcolepsy). However, this too is changing.

Probably at the heart and heat of this debate are the ethical landmines (Lamb 2004), which we need to pay attention to:

1. By allowing or knowing that these chemical enhancements are being used to boost brain power by students, are we in fact giving an edge to some students while putting the other students at a disadvantage? Would this constitute cheating? There are those experts who feel that using these drugs equate to "brain steroids" and that this is giving those students an unfair advantage (Laurance, 2003). These drugs, because they help to minimize fatigue and help the student to work at peak performance by keeping focused and on task.

2. If it is decided that the use of these enhancement drugs is deemed acceptable, will they be available to all students. What about the students who cannot afford the cost of such drugs? It is already perceived by some that the rich or well to do already have an edge in their ability to hire tutors is this just another one of those advantages? Currently there are many students that are obtaining these drugs through a variety of methods. Some are getting an "off-label" prescription from their doctors, which is a practice both legal and common ( Healy, 2004). Some are getting them through the unregulated Internet pharmacies while others are purchasing through the black market, while others are buying them off the streets (Laurance, 2003). One thought is that we should place a greater emphasis on individual learning pathways rather than on competitive exams ((Miller, P. and Wilsdon, J.) and this might discourage the volume of use for these drugs. It has also been suggested that we use a comparative approach to understand and analyze the ethical issues perhaps in the same way sports has to help us with this issue (Harris 2005).

3. If these drugs were used to enhance brainpower thus improving productivity, would this ability cause conflict between colleagues or inequalities in pay (Sanford University, 2004)?

4. These drugs are currently used for the treatment of disease, are they now acceptable to improve the functions of the normal? There are arguments out there that there is no real distinction made between therapy and enhancement (Harris, 2005) and that it would be difficult to "draw a bright line" between therapy and enhancement (Lamb 2004). This argument is supported by the theory that the goal for any therapy is to bring the mind and/or the bodies back to a natural state and that no one thinks twice about correcting other body abnormalities: eyes, bones, skin and in fact is really no different than antibiotics, or vaccines, that are used to prevent diseases before they are present. These too could be considered enhancers used to help us get or stay healthy (Talan, 2003).

5. There is also the question of "Personhood", will these drugs change who we are? Since these drugs are used to modify behavior it is likely that there will be some effects that could 'change our identities" (Lamb 2004).

There are many other concerns that are also of significance which relate to what effects these drugs might have on the normal person. Since these drugs were designed to treat disease it is unknown what the long and short term effects might be on a disease free person. There are also the side effects that drugs can produce, such as: insomnia, loss of appetite, dizziness and depression and in some cases addiction (Laurance, 2003), even when taking them for the prescribe disease. It is because of this potential for addiction, and the growing demand for Ritalin, that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has classified it as a "drug of concern" (Healy, 2004). It is also of a concern that although these drugs do enhance the brains capabilities that they might also overload the mind with things that we normally weed out once the need for the information is gone. There is also worry that although there are advantages to using these drugs now, there is a concern that if used for the long term that these drugs may hasten the brains aging process (Lamb 2004).

The impact and implications for the medical, ethical, psychological and legal standpoints are significant. As with any parent we all want the best for our children. Does this include running out to the doctors to get our child drugs to ensure academic success? In turn to please the parent does the doctor write a prescription that is not to treat a disease? As there have been articles written where medical students themselves have used these drugs for the very same effect, it is likely that some medical providers would be inclined to accommodate the young minds of their patients. As the FDA has not approved these drugs for non-diagnosis treatment, it is likely that this will be afforded to only those who can pay. Then of course we have the legal issues. Many of the drugs are being bought and not prescribed. Selling prescription drugs is a crime and could have some serious ramifications

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