The ethics of biomedical military research: Therapy, prevention, enhancement, and risk

Alexandre Erler, Vincent C. Müller

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


What proper role should considerations of risk, particularly to research subjects, play when it comes to conducting research on human enhancement in the military context? We introduce the currently visible military enhancement techniques (1) and the standard discussion of risk for these (2), in particular what we refer to as the ‘Assumption’, which states that the demands for risk-avoidance are higher for enhancement than for therapy. We challenge the Assumption through the introduction of three categories of enhancements (3): therapeutic, preventive, and pure enhancements. This demands a revision of the Assumption (4), alongside which we propose some further general principles bearing on how to balance risks and benefits in the context of military enhancement research. We identify a particular type of therapeutic enhancements as providing a more responsible path to human trials of the relevant interventions than pure enhancement applications. Finally, we discuss some possible objections to our line of thought (5). While acknowledging their potential insights, we ultimately find them to be unpersuasive, at least provided that our proposal is understood as fully non-coercive towards the candidates for such therapeutic enhancement trials.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHealth care in contexts of risk, uncertainty, and hybridity
EditorsDaniel Messelken, David Winkler
Place of PublicationCham
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-80443-5
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-80442-8, 978-3-030-80445-9
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Publication series

NameMilitary and Humanitarian Health Ethics (MHHE)
ISSN (Print)2524-5465
ISSN (Electronic)2524-5473


  • human enhancement
  • military
  • risk
  • therapy


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