Pharmacists Can’t Administer Opportunity: The Role of Neuroenhancers in Educational Inequalities

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The American Journal of Bioethics





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While Keisha Ray provides a compelling argument for how cognitive enhancers could function as a quick fix for educational disparities, as social scientists with expertise in social inequalities, education, and medicine, we find this argument flawed. First, it assumes the U.S. educational system functions as an equalizer of opportunities. On the contrary, a plethora of research has conclusively demonstrated that educational institutions perpetuate inequalities. For example, marginalized students in some of the best educational institutions drop out at higher rates, score lower on standardized tests, and obtain lower grades than their privileged peers (Coleman et al. 1966). Second, if doctors prescribe marginalized students “study drugs” to improve their academic performance, what will keep affluent parents from expecting doctors to do the same for their children? In turn, stimulants might widen, rather than minimize, what the author describes as social deficiencies. Third, even if we overlook the evidence that questions our education system as an equalizer, and assume that neuroenhancers would only be prescribed to marginalized students, the author's argument is still flawed, for it takes for granted that marginalized students would have access to necessary medical monitoring, as required alongside any pharmaceutical treatment regimen. Research shows marginalized students are underinsured or uninsured (Berdahl et al. 2013), which raises important questions, such as who will monitor these children's overall health and assess them for anxiety and/or any other known side effect of neuroenhancers? It is simply not productive to propose a solution that could end up exasperating an unjust system, especially not one that could have negative health affects on marginalized students. In the sections that follow, we revisit each of our concerns.

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