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The Sound of Ideas

The Price of Perfection

Posted Tuesday, September 1, 2009

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The Price of Perfection Humans are often engaged in some degree of biomedical enhancement. At one end, there's the morning cup of coffee to stay alert during a 9 a.m. meeting. On the other end, there's the tradition of giving amphetamines to fighter pilots and the increasingly common practice of taking Adderall or Ritalin before college exams. The purposes may be similar, but our feelings about them are very divergent. Local bioethicist Maxwell Mehlman explores this territory in his new book, and he'll be our guest, Tuesday morning at 9.


Health, Other, Ethics/Religion


Maxwell Mehlman author, The Price of Perfection: Individualism and Society in the Era of biomedical Enhancement, Petersilge Professor of Law and director of the Law-Medicine Center, Case Western Reserve University

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Steven 8:17 AM 9/1/09

As a college student, I often use Adderall to focus during long days of classes or studying. It works far better than caffeine and has almost no side effects. I see no moral or ethical problem with it.

Sean 8:33 AM 9/1/09

Your guest suggests that “historically”, drugs were used by athletes to enhance their performance, aw though that is sound justification for their use today. Am I supposed to believe that just because people did things in the past that they are acceptable by today’s standards? That because the church tortured those who opposed its mandates that we should allow that behavior today? Should we re institute slavery because it can be shown to have existed from the beginning of civilization? I think your logic of historical justification is fundamentally flawed.

What it sounds like is that you are attempting to justify a system that benefits the class which has money at this point in history, so that they can maintain that place indefinitely, not on their own merit, but by what you call “enhancements”., a nose job here, a breast lift there, hair implants for baldness, drugs to replace intelligence...all to disguise moneyed people’s lack of honest genetic quality.

The last one scares me most of all....Given ten students, if half get the “grade” by popping a bunch of pills, what exactly are we unleashing on the future by putting those people into positions of responsibility and power?  Do you want a surgeon who got his/her degree by his natural ability, or one who slid thru the program pumped up on “enhancements”.

Your guest is clearly part of the slacker class...His last comment about the “hegemony of naturally gifted people” is so transparent as to make me laugh.

Julie 8:43 AM 9/1/09

As a musician, I occasionally take beta blockers to let me do what I normally can do (in practice) in a stressful situation (audition, big concert, etc) NOT to allow me to do something above and beyond that, as something like a steroid would do.

m.watts 9:39 AM 9/1/09

I found this ethical discussion astonishing. Wikipedia defines ethics (also known as moral philosophy) as “a branch of philosophy which seeks to address questions about morality,” and the dictionary define it as “dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.”

Where is the essential morality--ie, good/bad-- in this ethicist’s views? What is his view of euthanasia and abortion, as using his logic these procedures certainly would boost society’s benefit and offer a biogenetic enhancement to the human race if that is the primary consideration. Something fundamental seems missing in this discussion…

Christine 10:56 AM 9/4/09

In the 60’s and 70’s the majority of doctoral dissertations should have been dedicated to Smith, Kline, and French.

My daughter attended a competitive private school, a serious financial burden for us.  We began kindergarden there because she was ADHD. The curriculum in the local schools was essentially the same.  However at Laurel the teacher student ratio in kindergarden was 2 teachers - 14 students.  In the local schools: 1 teacher - 24 students with volunteer parent assistants.  Without explaining all the issues I knew that she would melt-down without lots of focused attentions from her teachers(.  All the faculty and the primary director made primary school a heaven at the private school.* Here she also received ancillary tutoring for reading.  My observations led to her using ADHD meds, her teachers said, “OH.  [We} knew she was smart.  But [we] didn’t know she was smart.”

Just observations about non-medical but expensive interventions and medications.  And the value of both.  Neither would have happened if I didn’t have the ability to dig deep and find the tuition.  And if I wasn’t a psychologist who had the knowledge and leverage to present my clinical observations and to argue to the professional evaluating her to include medications in the recommendations.  And then with her pediatrician to follow up.


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