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Announcement: “Brave New Love” in AJOB:Neuroscience – peer commentaries due October 7

Announcement: “Brave New Love” – peer commentaries due October 7

Dear Practical Ethics readers,

The paper, “Brave new love: the threat of high-tech ‘conversion’ therapy and the bio-oppression of sexual minorities” by Brian D. Earp, Anders Sandberg, and Julian Savulescu has been accepted for publication in the American Journal of Bioethics: NeuroscienceProposals for open peer commentaries are due this Monday October 7th.

The article may be accessed here, or at the following link: Be sure to select AJOB:Neuroscience from the drop-down menu of journals. Here is an abstract of the argument:


Abstract: Our understanding of the neurochemical bases of human love and attachment, as well as of the genetic, epigenetic, hormonal, and experiential factors that conspire to shape an individual’s sexual orientation, is increasing exponentially. This research raises the vexing possibility that we may one day be equipped to modify such variables directly, allowing for the creation of “high-tech” conversion therapies or other suspect interventions. In this paper, we discuss the ethics surrounding such a possibility, and call for the development of legal and procedural safeguards for protecting vulnerable children from the application of such technology. We also consider the more difficult case of voluntary, adult “conversion” and argue that in rare cases, such attempts might be permissible under strict conditions.


Open Peer Commentary articles are typically between 500-1500 words and contain no more than 10 references. A guide to writing an Open Peer Commentary is available under the Resources section “Instructions and Forms” at AJOB:Neuroscience asks that by Monday, October 7, 2013 you submit a short summary of your proposed Open Peer Commentary (no more than 1-2 paragraphs). Please submit your proposal online via the AJOB:Neuroscience Editorial site, following the instructions provided there. They ask that you do not prepare a full commentary yet. Once they have evaluated your proposal, they will contact you via email to let you know whether or not they were able to include you on the final list of those to be asked to submit an Open Peer Commentary.

You will then have until Friday, October 25, 2013 to submit your full Open Peer Commentary.


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2 Comment on this post

  1. I would agree that should such biotech interventions become feasible, they should certainly be allowed in the case of mentally competent, consenting adults. Mandatory intervention would be justified in the case of paedophiles, rapists, exhibitionists etc when they come to the attention of the criminal justice system (i.e., when convicted of a sexual offence. But we should expect that a significant proportion of such people would voluntarily agree to such intervention, whether or not they’ve been charged with offences).

    In regard to voluntary modification of one’s sexuality, I think this excerpt from the paper raises important points:

    More generally, while it is clear that one’s basic sexual attractions are largely determined by
    factors outside of one’s control—including gene expression, epigenetics, and hormone levels in
    the prenatal environment (Balthazart, 2011)—one’s considered relationship to those attractions,
    in terms of the behaviors, self-understandings, and identity-labels one chooses to pursue or to
    adopt, is much more subject to personal beliefs and input, and involves a negotiation between
    one’s “nature” and one’s values (Earp, 2012b). One’s values may indeed be informed by
    religion, tradition, or spirituality, of course; but they might also be informed by philosophical
    reflection, or aesthetics, or radical feminism, or secular humanism, or transhumanism, or gender
    experimentalism, or something else entirely. Thus there is no obvious moral obligation to
    “accept” one’s default dispositions, nor one’s psycho-biological baseline, as being inherently
    good or valuable—whether one is “straight” or “gay” or “bisexual” or even if one rejects such
    simplistic labeling altogether14. And since future technologies may make it possible for one to
    modify one’s basic sexual attractions as well, this process of nature-value ‘negotiation’ is liable
    to fall even more directly under the influence of one’s conscious ideals and commitments over
    the course of coming years.

    One could argue that much of transhumanist ethics is likely to focus on the human desire to reshape our chemically-determined nature in line with what we regard as our highest ideals, and sexuality is likely to be regarded as legitimate a concern as any other area of human nature.. If future neuroscience and biotechnology do indeed enable very fundamental manipulations of that nature, much of our current “sexual politics” may well become redundant.

  2. Agree with what you argue in the paper, but I instinctively distrust the sorts of institutions you’d need to regulate/approve these sorts of interventions. It seems to me to be impossible to establish an institution which could arrive at a functional consensus for your “basic technology-value question”. I can’t see how a panel could not end up privileging some political or religious norms that are deeply contested by many. My suspicion is that it in this sort of country it would give a free ride to “progressives” and set a very high barrier to proof for “conservatives” who wanted to make the opposite change. I think a panel of Guardian readers would approve a straight woman’s political lesbianism in a heartbeat, while being deeply, probably permanently resistant to (say) a gay Baptist who wanted to be straight. And I expect the countries most eager to employ this technology would be coming from the opposite perspective… I think the second worst outcome would be for my hypothetical gay Baptist above, who would suffer unequal treatment. The worst outcome would be for those under regimes who decide “now that sexuality can be altered through medical intervention, there really is no excuse for .” I think that might lead to far higher levels of intolerance.

    So yeah, the argument is reasonable enough, but I kind of despair of the sorts of inquisitorial institutions you’d be required to build…

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