Friday, October 19, 2012

Timothy F. Murphy's "Ethics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about Children"

Timothy F. Murphy is Professor of Philosophy in the Biomedical Sciences at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago. He is the author of Case Studies in Biomedical Research Ethics, Gay Science: The Ethics of Sexual Orientation Research, and other books.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Ethics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about Children, and reported the following:
From Page 99: Communications professor Robert Brookey says: “When homosexuality is constituted as an object of biomedical knowledge, then diagnosis and treatment are reconstituted as manufactured tests and drugs.” As he sees things, “the genetic study of sexual orientation offers biomedical industries the opportunity to develop and market new products from which they and clinicians will profit. Armed with these products, he says, clinicians will gain back the income that they lost when they gave up the judgment that homosexuality is pathological.”

No interventions are available to parents and clinicians that are capable of influencing the sexual orientation of a child. Some commentators worry that advanced biogenetic study will reveal exactly how people come by their sexual orientation. Armed with that kind of knowledge, won’t parents take steps to avoid gay and lesbian children? Won’t they intervene to ensure that their children end up straight?

Despite the fact that there is no way to influence the sexual orientation of children through a genetic intervention, this question of ethics has been kicking around since the 1970s. If a clinical intervention came along, should parents be able to use it to get the sexual orientation they want in a child? Unlike some commentators, I don’t assume that parents will always want straight children, but I expect most of them would. And that foreseeable outcome has led some commentators to predict only ruin for gay men and lesbians if such a prenatal intervention for sexual orientation were to come along.

Commentators like Brookey cannot see any reason to study homosexuality except to deliver more control over that sexual orientation. Psychiatrists may no longer be able to treat homosexuality in good conscience, but practitioners of prenatal medicine will be able to supplement their income by ‘selling’ sexual orientation treatments as part of their services to pregnant women.

As a matter of ethics, the question of prenatal interventions is bigger than just matters of money. In Ethics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about Children, I report the debate about controlling children’s sexual orientation, and I offer a rolling commentary as it has unfolded over the past few decades. In some ways, this issue stands in for all the ways in which biomedicine is posed to offer control over children’s traits. How far should parents be able to influence their children through prenatal interventions? In other ways, this issue has dimensions all its own. Most important among them is the question of why some commentators would ban further research into sexual orientation or ban access to fetal information that predicted a child’s likely sexual orientation. That outcome will have its own damaging effects for gay men and lesbians: it will put them in families that do not want them.
Learn more about Ethics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about Children at Timothy F. Murphy's website.

--Marshal Zeringue