How should states strike the best balance between medical ethics, human rights, national security, and international law? 

This week we go back to thinking about questions, and answering:

How should states strike the best balance between medical ethics, human rights, national security, and international law?

It is, of course, a difficult one. Here’s what we thought. Let us know your answers below.


For me, this question highlights the problematic and abstract nature of the state, ethics, law, the human and ‘human rights’. While we (for the most part) assume these concepts are all set in stone, the reality is that they are anything but, and we exist in a permanent situation of Orwellian ‘double think’ in which we tell ourselves the world works in a different way to that in which it actually does.  

The question then for me is one of presentation vs representation – or rather ‘what states say’ and ‘what states do’. We shouldn’t then be asking so much how states should balance the four categories in this question, but rather why they should balance them. Without a proper debate on the question of why, then the question of how we go about achieving balance doesn’t make much sense. 

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University 


To me, this question is difficult to answer. Quite honestly I don’t see anything wrong with the current set up that deal with military human enhancement.  

In terms of international law, there is nothing wrong with using enhanced soldiers. What would be problematic about having military personnel be less tired, more accurate, and take greater care in terms of the two central tenants of the law of armed conflict to only attack lawful targets and reduce civilian suffering? If we could have current military personnel do a better job of those we would think it great, but some people falsely believe that this is suddenly problematic if the individuals are medically enhanced. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to argue that if super soldiers would reduce civilian harm, that the law of armed conflict would require their use. 

In terms of national security, better soldiers mean more efficient forces and a likely quicker end to conflicts. Who doesn’t want that? The only national security issues I could think of would be if soldier-spies were used to infiltrate foreign countries under the guise of being ordinary humans only to begin a violent campaign from within, or the increased likelihood of other states wanting to steal information on super soldier programmes in order to create their own and compete (with all the issues that creates). 

I don’t really see any issue of human rights for using super soldiers. However, there are clear rights issues for the soldiers themselves if the enhancement programme creates unexpected results, or if they are somehow coerced into participating. These issues are, however, not new and are present in all medical experiments.  

Not having much experience in medical ethics, the key issue that jumps out at me it’s whether these super soldiers would still be human after enhancement.  

It seems to me that although there are clear issues, I don’t see any reason why current frameworks would not be sufficient in international law and human rights. National security frameworks would seem to be sufficient as they currently recognise and prevent foreign intelligence agents and transnational espionage; although they obviously have trouble identifying this, perhaps all that is needed is greater vigilance. I doubt medical ethics would allow for procedures taking personnel beyond humanity, so I don’t see any problem there. So, apart from greater vigilance in terms of national security I do not see what is wrong with current frameworks.  

It would be possible to improve the current situation, but the terms of that improvement would be ideologically biased. Either decision-makers would want to ease, or salt, the path towards super soldiers, so any ‘improvements’ to the current framework would only be seen as positive if they align with your ideological bent. 

Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University 

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