February 23, 2024

Should psychopaths be morally bioenhanced?

Croatian bioethicists say it should be compulsory

Our culture is fascinated by psychopaths. Go shopping on Amazon and you will find books like The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success; or Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us; or Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work; or The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry.

Two Croatian bioethicists writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics contend this week that moral bioenhancement for psychopaths ought to be obligatory.

What is psychopathy? The authors define it as “a personality disorder that involves traits such as pathological lying, manipulativeness, superficial charm, no or little concern for the interests of others, a grandiose sense of self and, usually, a long history of offences and encounters with justice”. Not the sort of person, in other words, you would normally want as a boss.

And what is moral bioenhancement? This is biotechnologies which improve personality traits and behaviour to make us nicer and less aggressive. Ethicists Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu were amongst the first to discuss the ethics and feasibility of moral bioenhancement. They argued that it will eventually be needed so that humanity will not destroy society or the planet. Elvio Baccarini and Luca Malatesti have more modest ambitions – to keep psychopaths from making our lives miserable. They argue that psychopaths may not realise that they are harming others, but they do realise that other psychopaths could harm them. Therefore, compelling them to take drugs or neurological treatment is ethical, relying on principles of public reason.

Baccarini and Malatesti do not discuss the practicalities of their proposal: how would psychopaths be identified? How would success be measured? What would happen if they refused? It is an intriguing discussion which could be compared to existing laws in some countries which mandate chemical castration for some kinds of sex offenders.

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