What happens to drugs that make healthy people even better? They get banned. Is that right? Unclear.

More drugs are going to come along, and some of them will have the characteristic that they not only make sick people better but they make healthy people still better. These drugs will be there, we need to think about how we should deal with them. One strong reaction is a knee-jerk “We should ban them”: that they’re cheating, that they’re unnatural, that they’re somehow wrong. The main point of this article is that we don’t agree with that. Enhancement is not a dirty word. I’m a teacher—my job is to enhance people. I’m a parent—my job, until they became teenagers, was to enhance my kids.

We do enhancement all the time. Education is enhancement. And as a law professor, I’m not only teaching my students facts that are important to them, but ways of manipulating those facts, ways of dealing with them. That’s cognitive enhancement. And it only works if I actually change their brains. If you remember tomorrow anything I’ve said today, it will be because I’ve made physical or electro-chemical changes in the cells of your brain. It’s kind of a weird thought, but true. So why is it that we do enhancement by so many other ways, but if you start talking about doing it through drugs, suddenly it becomes evil?

‘We like to think that if people are smarter and working better—their brains are working better—the world will be a better place.’

Well, I think part of it is, drug is a dirty word. Somebody’s talked about our pharmacological Puritanism. It’s a very love-hate relationship, as all of us who enjoy a glass of wine know. I mean, our society is probably one of the biggest users of drugs that change mental states, and also one of the most negative toward them in this odd sort of way. Well, there’s some good reasons to be worried about drugs, and we’ve laid some of them out, particularly enhancing drugs: safeness, coercion and fairness. And those are appropriate concerns, but they’re not knee-jerk concerns. They’re not, “All enhancing drugs are bad in all circumstances at all times.” Right now, to the extent the public has thought about this issue at all, it’s kind of the knee-jerk “drugs are bad, enhancement is bad, let’s ignore it.” Not a good solution.

Really interesting interview with a Stanford Law Prof Henry Greely who is pushing the discussion on bioethics and medicine.