Undergrad Candice Neo questions how ethical it is for students to use cognitive enhancement drugs to improve their performance in school.
As reported by western media in February, there has been an increase in university students taking cognitive enhancement drugs to help them perform better in exams.
Of course, this is not something that is prevalent in Singapore now, but if it can happen in UK, the idea can one day infiltrate Singapore.
“Normally prescribed for neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, such drugs boost acetylcholine in the brain, improving alertness and attention,” as quoted from the article.
Some claim this is cheating, giving students who have taken such drugs an unfair advantage over those to have not. However, others argued that this is equivalent to taking beauty enhancements, and it is perfectly normal to do so.
In Singapore, students and parents still use the more traditional ways of improving alertness and concentration levels – consuming chicken essence, cod liver oil, ginseng drinks and other herbs before important exams. To me, the difference between these methods and taking cognitive enhancement drugs appear to be rather minor. Isn't the end result similar? Though of course, the drugs may be more effective, but ultimately it all depends on the individual.
In my opinion, safety issues are the most pressing concerns. Are students going to be more and more dependent on medication to do better at school? Is that not equivalent to heroin addicts?
There has been much controversy about the ethics of consuming these cognitive enhancement drugs, and whether universities should approve of them. Personally, I see no issue in taking these drugs, provided if they are limited to less major exams. I mean, if you think about it, what do we call “unfair advantage”? Some people have the natural ability to keep alert for long hours; some are born with a high level of intelligence that the average hardworking student can never match up to, no matter how much he tries. So what is wrong with seeking to improve their cognitive abilities temporarily through these drugs?
Some people compare such drug usage by students to drug abuse by sportsmen to improve their performances in competitions. But those illegal performance-enhancement drugs sportsmen consume directly affect their performances, which truly gives them an unfair edge over their competitors. In the case of the former, the students' intelligence do not increase, but merely their mental stamina.
However, I feel that the main issue goes beyond the debate of the right to consume the drugs.
Are we going to sacrifice our health for the sake of keeping ahead in this never-ending rat race? Are academic achievements and work achievements the most important things in our lives? Sometimes we can be too caught up in striving to be the very best among our peers, that we lose touch of what is truly important in our lives.
If we are truly leading fulfilled lives, there would be no such controversy at all.