Brian Earp: The Ethics of High-Tech Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy

While prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation is still widespread throughout the world, in recent decades laws have been enacted in various countries banning so-called conversion therapy: (typically) psychological attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to exclusively heterosexual. Advances in neuroscience in the not-too-distant future could mean that conversion therapy could be delivered in a ‘high-tech’ manner, for example by administering a drug that could rewire the neurochemical signals in our brains.

This possibility brings with it a raft of ethical issues and today on The Provocateur I talk to Brian Earp, Research Fellow at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at Oxford University, to broach these issues. We discuss the possible harms of conversion therapy and whether neuroenhancement-based conversion therapy in particular produces any distinctive harms, explore arguments in favour of the practice and touch on some policy implications.

You can listen to part one of the podcast here: 

Part two is here: 

Note: In the broadcast I mention a second episode with Brian (discussing female and male circumcision), but unfortunately this has been postponed to next month due to scheduling issues. Watch this space!

Further Reading:

Cruz, D. B. (1999) ‘Controlling Desires: Sexual Orientation Conversion and the Limits of Knowledge and Law‘, Southern California Law Review 72, pp. 1297-1400.

Earp, B. D., A. Sandberg and J. Savulescu (2014) ‘Brave New Love: The Threat of High-Tech “Conversion” Therapy and the Bio-Oppression of Sexual Minorities‘, AJOB Neuroscience 5(1), pp. 4-12.

Gupta, K. (2012) ‘Protecting Sexual Diversity: Rethinking the Use of Neurotechnological Interventions to Alter Sexuality’, AJOB Neuroscience 3(3), pp. 24-28.

Haldeman, D. C. (2002) ‘Gay Rights, Patient Rights: The Implications of Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy‘, Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 33(3), pp. 260-264.

Levy, J. T. (2005) ‘Sexual orientation, exit and refuge’, in Eisenberg, A. and J. Spinner-Halev (eds.) Minorities within Minorities: Equality, Rights and Diversity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Okin, S. M. (1999) ‘Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?’ in Cohen, J. et al. (eds.) Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Sandel, M. (2007) The Case Against Perfection. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Shidlo, A. et al. (eds.) (2001) Sexual Conversion Therapy: Ethical, Clinical and Research Perspectives. New York, London and Oxford: The Haworth Medical Press.

Tozer, E. E. and J. A. Hayes (2004) ‘Why Do Individuals Seek Conversion Therapy? The Role of Religiosity, Internalized Homonegativity, and Identity Development‘, The Counseling Psychologist 32, pp. 716-740.

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