Parasidis – Emerging Military Technologies: Balancing Medical Ethics and National Security

This week we consider ‘Emerging Military Technologies: Balancing Medical Ethics and National Security’ by Efthimios Parasidis (Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law 47, no. 167 (2015): 168–81), available here. This is an interesting look into several different aspects related to bioethics and the military.

Let us know what you think in the comments below. 

In this article the author examines the many difficulties of balancing medical ethics against the needs of national security. He cites for example the case of the pre-emptive vaccination of soldiers after 9/11 (169), in which the smallpox vaccine was administered against the risk of biological attack, only for many service members to suffer vaccine-related adverse health effects (169). While on the one hand the move might have proved prescient were smallpox to be used as a chemical weapon against US forces, as it wasn’t, the vaccination actually had a cumulative negative effect, for which the US military cannot be held to account.

Clearly, responsibility is a major issue to emerge out of the use of bio-technologies, especially as soldiers are effectively ‘forced’ to obey the military chain of command. Without a clear line of accountability, there seem at present to be insufficient checks and balances in place to protect soldiers against flagrant abuse from the powers that be. While would seem clear that the military does have a certain right to treat soldiers in a different way to civilians, this should not preclude the application of technologies that have not gone through certain checks and balances to ensure authorities do not abuse their power and cause lasting effects to soldiers who are, at the end of the day, also civilians too.

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University

When reviewing pieces for TTAC21, I much prefer to focus on the substantive issues rather than anything methodological in the readings. But, I found this article a bit odd. The main bulk of the article was good and explained a lot. But it then switched focus to identity politics in the conclusion to consider the apparently disproportionate effects on lower-social class and ethnic minority personnel. It seems an odd view point considering that military promotions are meritocratic. Furthermore, the way the conclusion as written felt as though it had an undercurrent reinforcing the stereotype that the military is where the stupid and poor go for work because they cannot do anything else in the West. This really annoys me. Modern war is highly complex, and those fighting in them are highly-trained professionals. Indeed, the US military will not accept anybody with an IQ score in the bottom 10% because they are so stupid that they would be counterproductive on the battlefield. Furthermore, Western militaries often take considerable time and effort to educate their personnel. Famously, Andy McNab, of Bravo Two Zero fame, could barely read when he entered the British Army and left it not only as the most highly decorated soldier in the force, but also with the skills to go on to become best-selling writer. Frankly, if the author had stuck to the bioethics focus of the paper it would have made for a much better read.

Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University

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