Medicating Children: The Case of Ritalin
Bioethics. 1997 Jul-Oct; 11(3-4): 228-240.
In response to recent concerns about the overmedication of children, this paper considers ethical and conceptual issues that arise in the issue of when children who are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder should be given stimulants such as the psychotropic drug Ritalin as part of their treatment. There is considerable resistance and worry about the possibility of overmedication. This is linked to the worry that the diagnosis of ADHD is overused, and the paper considers some reasons to worry about the overuse of the diagnosis itself. The paper then focuses on the resistance to the use of drugs, which is particularly strong for children in the gray area of diagnosis, where it is dubious whether the children really meet the strict diagnostic criteria. The reasons behind such resistance are often not well articulated, so part of the task of the paper is [to] spell out what they might be. The reasons are given the following labels: side effects, unnaturalness, profit motives, thought control, competitiveness, and doctors' power. The paper ends in taking the polemical position that while there is some legitimate concern about possible short and long term side effects of children taking psychotropic drugs, the other reasons for resistance are not well-founded.
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