Reference Work Entry

Handbook of Neuroethics

pp 1363-1380


Responsibility Enhancement and the Law of Negligence

  • Imogen GooldAffiliated withFaculty of Law, University of Oxford, St Anne’s College Email author 
  • , Hannah MaslenAffiliated withOxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford


Much of the law is concerned with ascribing responsibility. The law of negligence looks for the person who acted without due care and places on them the responsibility for the outcome. The criminal law responds punitively to those who break its rules, but the accused can avoid being held wholly or partially responsible if she can point to evidence that showed she lacked the capacity to be in charge of her actions. Contract law is based around competent individuals voluntarily taking on obligations to one another and holds them responsible if they fail in them. Responsibility is demonstrably a key concept in the law of England, and therefore we should be particularly interested in technology that can affect an individual’s capacity to be responsible. This chapter looks at one particular area of English law in which new drugs are potentially changing our capacities and hence (arguably) our responsibilities: cognitive enhancers. Using a scenario involving a tired surgeon, this chapter briefly examines the question: When, if at all, might someone be legally obliged to take a cognitive-enhancing drug?