The Difference Between Enhancement and Therapy

Freshman (College 1st year) ・Philosophy ・APA

The distinction between therapy and enhancement is hugely debatable, and in most situations, the award is still dubious. The difference may be minor, but it is essential. Therapy is a type of therapy that seeks to rehabilitate an ill person by treating their illnesses, disabilities, conditions, impairments, or deficiencies. On the other hand, an enhancement is the improvement of a person's characteristics, physical ability, or activity performance with the assistance of a medical professional. It's difficult to tell the two apart since the procedures involved in dealing with patients are identical in both cases. Different health conditions necessitate different degrees of enhancement, the medical practitioner may not know whether to prescribe therapy or enhancements. All therapies are enhancements but not all enhancements are medically therapeutic. It is therefore very unclear how to differentiate a therapeutic enhancement from a therapy treatment while it is easy to tell apart a therapy treatment and a non therapeutic enhancement. We can use the moral, ethical and social understanding of human beings to show the importance of distinguishing the two.

Social, Ethical and Moral Reasons

In biotechnology, both therapy and enhancement are used in improving the human physical and mental performance, health, functionality or quality of life to the individual’s satisfaction. To illustrate, Cabrera et al (2014) argue that enhancement is acceptable if it enables development towards what society considers being the norm, regardless of cognitive effects or social domains. By distinguishing therapy and enhancement patients understand the doctor’s recommendations better hence they are more content with the decisions made (Bostrom, 2009). Most therapy treatments are ethical and morally acceptable while most enhancements are for personal gain and may not be ethical. Steroids or muscle enhancements can be used to improve the movement of injured or disabled people and are socially, ethically and morally acceptable forms of treatment that help regain them their health. However they are often prescribed to athletes to increase their speed and stamina against competitors which isn’t ethically correct. Stimulants like Ritalin are prescribed to children who have problems paying attention which is an ethical and moral treatment while it can be prescribed to enhance cognitive performance and focus in children who are perfectly healthy which is morally and ethically wrong because as minors, they rely on their parents to make the best decisions for them therefore the parents should be content that they have healthy children and not experiment on enhancing them. For example some children born in families within cults that have enhancements which are not socially, morally or ethically accepted or from parents who like extreme body enhancements such as tattoos, excessive body piercings amongst others should be protected.

Ethically and socially speaking, physically healthy people should not be given drugs as enhancements outside the social norm. Reconstruction is important for people who have been in accidents, born with or developed deformities so as to boost their confidence through better physical appearances or speech, sight and vision. As people age they require a lot of therapy to pace the heart, to listen or see better, strengthen their bones and muscles amongst others. All these treatments are socially, morally and ethically accepted. Others enhance their appearance by inputting breast implants, lifting their skins, Botox injections, cosmetic surgeries, removing unwanted fats amongst others which are morally acceptable so long as whatever they enhance does not hurt others and they are aware of the consequences. People who take drugs to make them stronger and more active and at the same time more violent towards others make their choice socially, ethically and morally unacceptable.

It is therefore important to know the difference between the two because one is important to the health and the other is a choice that can be avoided. Patients put doctors in a medical dilemma because they treat them under a moral and ethical code under oath to avoid harm to the patients at all costs. Patients ask to have enhancements of their already healthy bodies which could cause more harm than good. Enhancements via biotechnology shows that people no longer appreciate their natural being hence have embraced the technology into a system that can be manipulated to their benefit (Jefferson et al., 2014).

Objections to the distinction between Therapy and Enhancements

Some scientists argue that there is no reason to differentiate the two because all therapies require enhancements to treat the patients. Patients can be treated for either physical or mental conditions. It can therefore be argued that non therapeutic enhancements can be used on patients who want to improve their self image and confidence or to enhance how they carry out activities in the best way humanely possible. Biotechnology has made that possible hence the calmness of their mental state is improved by the use of enhancements. Scientists also argue that therapy and enhancements whether therapeutic or not are more or less the same and will graduate from therapy and cosmetic surgery to genetic engineering, robotics, nanotechnology and neural science amongst others. The aim is to ensure that biotechnology is used to treat and to enhance humans to perform better, live longer and feel better about their self image. We could therefore question why humans shouldn’t be given the drugs that can enhance their abilities and improve their performance in society if the technology exists. People who suffer from inferiority complex and low self esteem may also suffer from stress and depression which can lead to chronic heart diseases such as heart attacks or stroke. In such cases it would be better to enhance their esteem using bio technology at an early stage even though they are perfectly healthy (Bess, 2010).

Response to the Objection

While it may be true that the human race have the right to their bodies and to make the decisions to make changes in whatever way they see fit. However a line has to be drawn as to the extent in which they can make those changes in a social, ethical and morally acceptable way. The doctors are obliged to give patients all the information pertaining to any drugs to be prescribed or therapeutic and enhancement procedures to be carried out in advance (Farah, 2004). The patients should be in a position to make an informed decision based on the facts laid out so that they can know if they really need the treatment and enhancements for improvement of their health or they want the enhancements to boost their physical appearance, sight, speech and vocals amongst others (Earp, 2014). After knowing the facts, they can make enhancements while abiding by the laws, rules and regulations set by the state. Some patients may suffer from BIID (Body Integrity Identity Disorders) whereby healthy individuals desire to be disabled and they proceed to amputate one or more of their limbs, mutilate themselves or ask doctors to carry out unethical procedures like spinal transactions or despicable sexual modifications (Muller, 2009). Deductive enhancements like these are not ethically, socially or morally acceptable as they disrupt the normal body image.


It is evident that medical therapy is ethically, socially and morally acceptable by all because it helps to treat and heal people who have diseases, disabilities, impairments or disorders to restore their health or reconstruct their bodies to the normal human form. Since all therapies have some form of enhancement, we could say that all therapeutic enhancements are acceptable too since they are also a form of treatment. It is debatable whether non therapeutic enhancements are ethical, moral or socially acceptable depending on the extent. Physical enhancements on perfectly healthy bodies could improve performance and effectiveness but could be medically destructive to the person’s health in the long run. Social economic surroundings influence people’s decisions to get enhancements (Fiske, 2009). Public perspectives of the community and the laws governing the right to make personal changes on one’s body for as long as the changes do not cause any harm to the society determine the moral and ethical perspectives of enhancements.


Bess, M. (2010). Enhanced humans versus “normal people”: elusive definitions.Journal of Medicine and Philosophy,35(6), 641-655.

Bostrom, N., & Sandberg, A. (2009). Cognitive enhancement: methods, ethics, regulatory challenges.Science and engineering ethics,15(3), 311-341.

Cabrera, L. Y. (2014). Empirical Support for the Moral Salience of the Therapy-Enhancement Distinction in the Debate Over Cognitive, Affective, and Social Enhancement. Neuroethics, 8(1), 243-256.

Earp, B., Sandberg, A., Kahane, G., & Savulescu, J. (2014). When is diminishment a form of enhancement? Rethinking the enhancement debate in biomedical ethics. Frontier in Systems Neuroscience, 12(1), 1-8.

Farah, M. J., Illes, J., Cook-Deegan, R., Gardner, H., Kandel, E., King, P., ... & Wolpe, P. R. (2004). Neurocognitive enhancement: what can we do and what should we do?. Nature reviews neuroscience,5(5), 421-425.

Jefferson, W., Douglas, T. K., & Savulescu, J. (2014). Enhancement and social virtue. Social Theory and Practice, 40(3), 499-527.

Fiske, S. T. (2009). Social beings: Core motives in social psychology. John Wiley & Sons.

Müller, S. (2009). Body integrity identity disorder (BIID)—Is the amputation of healthy limbs ethically justified?.The American Journal of Bioethics,9(1), 36-43.

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