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Human enhancement drugs and Armed Forces: an overview of some key ethical considerations of creating ‘Super-Soldiers’

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There is a long history and growing evidence base that the use of drugs, such as anabolic-androgenic steroids, to enhance human performance is common amongst armed forces, including in Australia. We should not be surprised that this might have occurred for it has long been predicted by observers. It is a commonplace of many recent discussion of the future of warfare and future military technology to proclaim the imminent arrival of Super Soldiers, whose capacities are modified via drugs, digital technology and genetic engineering, in ways that increase their performance exponentially. This is what some observers have referred to as the “Gladiator Model” wherein the aim is to create soldiers able to perform feats of which ordinary citizens are not capable. One key aspect of this “gladiator project” is the use of illicit drugs to enhance performance. Could we use drugs, such as steroids or amphetamines, to enhance performance? Should we use such drugs? In this paper we explore the ethics of creating Super Soldiers, and raise issues of consent, coercion and the extent to which such use is permitted or condemned by just war theory. We conclude that much will depend on the extent to which such use is harmful to the soldiers themselves and this is still an open question.

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Correspondence to Adrian Walsh.

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Walsh, A., Van de Ven, K. Human enhancement drugs and Armed Forces: an overview of some key ethical considerations of creating ‘Super-Soldiers’. Monash Bioeth. Rev. 41, 22–36 (2023).

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