For some time now, bioethicists have paid close attention to issues associated with ‘enhancement’; specifically, the appropriate use and regulation of substances and artefacts understood by some to improve the functioning of human bodies beyond that associated with ‘normal’ function. Medical humanities scholars (aside from philosophers and lawyers) and social scientists have not been frequent participants in debates around enhancement, but could shine a bright light on the range of dilemmas and opportunities techniques of enhancement are purported to introduce. In this paper, we argue that empirical research into the notion and practice of enhancement is necessary and timely. Such work could fruitfully engage with—and further develop—existing conceptual repertoires within the medical humanities and social sciences in ways that would afford benefit to scholars in those disciplines. We maintain that empirical engagements could also provide important resources to bioethicists seeking to regulate new enhancements in ways that are sensitive to societal context and cultural difference. To this end, we outline an empirical agenda for the medical humanities and social sciences around enhancement, emphasising especially how science and technology studies could bring benefits to—and be benefitted by—research in this area. We also use the example of (pharmaceutical) cognitive enhancement to show how empirical studies of actual and likely enhancement practices can nuance resonant bioethical debates.
- Public health
- Health policy
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