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  • Writer's pictureSociety of Bioethics and Medicine

Human Enhancement in Medicine: Should We Worry?

Written by Roger Chavez

Edited by Samantha Cavusoglu

When discussing many different situations in medicine, we often think about using treatment as a way to get someone from being unhealthy to becoming healthy. But, what if we took it a step further? What if we explored the use of human enhancements in medicine, and were able to push the limits of human capabilities?

Human enhancements can be defined as “any kind of genetic, biomedical, or pharmaceutical intervention aimed at improving human dispositions, capacities, or well-being, even if there is no pathology to be treated”, according to a research article published in 2019. In this article, the authors also describe how these enhancements can be seen as “upgrading a system”. Although they mention the fact that there are people who use it when there is nothing to treat within their bodies, many people around the world use enhancements to make their lives much improved because of conditions that have otherwise rendered some function of their body completely ineffective. For example, a person who was involved in a car accident and required a leg amputation could use a prosthesis as an enhancement in order to create a better situation for themselves. In medicine, this can be seen as treatment as well, since the problem they are fixing (with the implementation of the prosthesis) is both physical and emotional for the patient. As the Pew Research Institute puts it, “technological breakthroughs like these are springboards not only to healing people but to changing and improving humanity.” So how can this be worrisome?

As you may have seen on the news or social media in the past few years, Elon Musk has been at the forefront of one specific human enhancement called Neuralink. His goal with the project is to implant chips into the brains of people who suffer from conditions that render them paralyzed. These chips will have the power to let paralyzed people have control over a computer, or a phone, or potentially even regain control over their limbs. According to an article by Vox, this could improve the lives of millions of people, as “approximately 5.4 million people are living with paralysis in the US alone.” Although Neuralink’s mission is clearly stated through its website and its advertising, there is some speculation that Musk is pushing Neuralink for an even bigger issue: artificial intelligence. In the same Vox article, Elon Musk is quoted saying that he wants to “achieve symbiosis with artificial intelligence…so that we won’t be left behind as AI becomes more sophisticated.” Therefore, the idea of human enhancements becomes a controversial topic in the sense that it could potentially lead to the dehumanization of people. 

Another concern with an enhancement like Neuralink is that it could be used for people who are actually quite healthy, which could lead to many ethical issues. Firstly, would it be accessible to all types of people, whether they be of different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, ages, etc? If not, it may be seen as discriminatory towards any combination of groups, so the regulation of it would have to be very methodical. This is especially because of another ethical issue it presents, which is unfair advantages. How would we be allowed to have people compete fairly in a variety of things if enhancements are giving the edge to those who implement them? If someone were to run a 100-meter race, but instead of regular legs, they had prosthetic legs that were able to let you run at a much faster pace, then how would that be fair? Lastly, and debatably most important, is the issue of safety. Implementing objects like Neuralink requires a surgical procedure that involves drilling a hole in the skull and placing it directly on the person’s brain. We cannot have 100 percent certainty that every surgery will go smoothly, and so it may be cause for concern. And once the chip is implanted into the person, will it affect them in the short and long term? We don’t know if the battery has the ability to malfunction, or if the electrical signals can go haywire at any time since it is constantly operating.

With these concerns in mind, the other side of the argument shows the promising future of restorative medicine and how we can embrace the new wave of technology to better ourselves and others. People all over the world who have paralysis, blindness, deafness, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and even strokes can benefit from human enhancements by replacing functions in their bodies that were once lost at the hands of disease. In order for us to use these enhancements properly, scientists and doctors have to make sure that everyone follows the correct directions for ethical guidelines, as well as understand the risks that can come with them. Hopefully, in the future, we as a society will have a much better understanding of implementing technology within our bodies and can make our lives optimized to be as fulfilling as possible.


Almeida, M., & Diogo, R. (2019). Human enhancement: Genetic Engineering and Evolution. Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, 2019(1).

Samuel, S. (2023, October 16). Elon Musk wants to merge humans with AI. How many brains will be damaged along the way? Vox.

Masci, D. (2016, July 26). Human Enhancement. Pew Research Center Science & Society; Pew Research Center Science & Society.


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