Pharmacological enhancement of doctors’ performances

(My internet has been acting up again. In a nutshell, the wonderful customer service people have not only forgot to upgrade my old plan to the new one; they also canceled my original plan, leaving me with no internet. This, despite the mind-defying fact that i called thrice to confirm my order. When they realized their folly, they did not even have the decency to fast-track my account but instead made me wait another night for the internet because upgrades generally take one night. I have already waited two weeks. Never mind. The fact that i am not surprised, is very telling. One day, this country will realize it cannot continue behaving so lazily and incompetently.)

BMJ 2010;340:c2542

Anyway, i was reading an article in the British Medical Journal about performance-enhancing drugs; legal ones of course, that is ones that are prescribed to patients. For example, in patients with obstructive sleep apneas (think: mercilessly loud snoring) who do not get sufficient sleep because they are constantly choking and waking up to re-breathe; modafinil is used to treat their daytime sleepiness to keep them alert.

There were parallels being drawn in the article with doctors who have to transit through day and night shifts and surgeons who have to perform long complex operations. The article emphasized that we have not accumulated enough evidence to show that taking such drugs to assist in our daily tasks will have no long term side effects.

I have several questions in response to that. So if it has been demonstrated that there aren’t any bad effects from taking such drugs long term; is it ethical to use such drugs to boost our abilities, or unethical to not take such drugs and as a result, commit more medical errors in our exhaustion? If our abilities can be amplified so easily, then really there should not be any differentiation between smart and stupid, weak and strong; so it is all a matter of the balance of chemicals? In that case, should we be feeding all those seeming perceived as low IQs with such drugs so they can contribute more to society (taking into account of course, that not everyone with impaired intellectual capabilities will be lucky with such medications, but there will still be a significant proportion that will respond theoretically)? If we do so, will we be losing our humanity as a whole? Will we become less gracious, less loving, less kind and more impatient?

And i guess, fundamentally, why do we need such performance-aggrandizing drugs anyway? Do we really need to work ourselves to the bone to prove our worth? Is Life just about this? Maybe the solution is as simple as providing more funding and support. If we can’t learn such a basic concept, i doubt a pill can be our miracle cure.


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