Moral Issues in Soldier Enhancement: Military Physicians’ Perspectives

Eva M. van Baarle*, Carlijn Damsté, Sanne A. J. de Bruijn, Gwendolyn C. H. Bakx

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Dealing with soldier enhancement can be challenging for military physicians. As research on the ethics of soldier enhancement is mostly theoretical, this study aims to gain insights into the actual moral issues military physicians encounter, or expect to encounter. To that end, we carried out a qualitative study involving six focus groups of Dutch military physicians (n = 28) in operational roles. The participants voiced their concerns about moral issues concerning soldier enhancement. Based on the group discussions, and using inductive thematic analysis, we ascertained three major themes: (1) Doing no harm in soldier enhancement: uncertainty and high stakes; (2) Dependency relationships and conflicting moral responsibilities; and (3) The risk of ethical slippery slopes. Our findings illustrate that dealing with these moral responsibilities requires considerable skill and acuity to weigh up for all the situated complexities and dependency relationships that go beyond abstract rules or moral principles. A care-ethical approach that acknowledges the contextual and relational aspects of moral complexities along with peer consultation and joint reflective dialogue on moral issues can help military physicians deal with soldier enhancement responsibly.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)198-209
JournalJournal of Military Ethics
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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