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There’s Always Potential! Medicine and the Debate on Human Enhancement for Soldiers. By Bernhard Koch

In short by Gertrud Maria Vaske

Improving people’s performance capabilities – or “human enhancement” – in military operations is no longer merely an idea, it is now a strategic reality around the world. Bernhard Koch illustrates the importance of ethical considerations about human enhancement in military contexts. In critical situations, soldiers are expected to give maximum performance. The human enhancement question creates new ethical challenges for military medical services, while the discussion about the future military developments repeatedly turns to this field.

Whether corrective laser surgery on the cornea, nanochips to enhance our senses, or resistance to the pain of torture achieved by biotechnological means, the dangers of these supposed “enhancements” are not currently foreseeable and there is a total lack of long-term studies. As a result, drug withdrawal therapy may often be needed. Also, materials used in the process may have lasting toxic effects on the body. New issues arise for military doctors and soldiers, and military medical personnel face particular challenges. What is the permissible extent of their involvement in human enhancement for soldiers? From a military and medical perspective, such enhancements may be helpful, but is it justifiable if soldiers want – or are even forced – to be "improved" like this?

Koch introduces the delicate question regarding International Humanitarian Law: With what justification could a soldier still be held responsible for a war crime, if as the result of a neuro enhancement (for example) he is essentially acting under remote control? Is it contrary to the principles of humanity and the public conscience if soldiers feel that they themselves were turned into human weapons? To prevent the values of military medical ethics falling completely into oblivion, the author recommends educational work and responsible conduct by everyone concerned.

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