April 17, 2024

Savulescu warns that “love-diminishing” drugs could be used for gay “conversion therapy”

Drugs could be used to reverse homosexual inclinations.

In recent years Oxford bioethicist Julian Savulescu has written extensively about the neuro-enhancement of human relationships. In a number of papers, he has studied the ethics of using drugs to strengthen or improve romantic relationships. But how about the use of “individual, voluntary use of love-diminishing biotechnology”? In other words, drugs which would inhibit or reduce love or sexual attraction. If love is essentially chemical, the tap can be turned on or off.

Although this is currently not feasible, Savulescu and co-authors Brian D. Earp and Anders Sandberg warn that drugs could be used to reverse homosexual inclinations. In a controversial paper in the American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience, Brave new love: The threat of high-tech ‘conversion’ therapy and the bio-oppression of sexual minorities”, they examine the ethics of using drugs to “normalize” people with atypical sexual desires.

They conclude that the use of conversion drugs on minors should be illegal but “in rare cases” they could be used by consenting adults, even if they are religious fundamentalists. “It seems hard to maintain… that John Stuart Mill’s famous “experiments in living” should be selectively closed off to socially conservative/religious people, but permitted for everyone else,” they write.

Nevertheless, there should be a concomitant struggle against anti-gay religious prejudice: “parallel efforts must also be made to fight against significant social pressures [that are] placed only on sexual minorities to alter their sexual orientations”.

The authors conclude that a love-diminishing drug needs to be regulated carefully to prevent coercion. However, it could have a positive side: “it could be used in a process of self-creation, for those who wanted to experience alternative sexual and/or relational orientations, whether from same-sex attraction to opposite-sex attraction, opposite-sex attraction to same-sex attraction, or even other possibilities in between.”

Xavier Symons
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gay conversion therapy
julian savulescu
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