Following the death of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who committed suicide after forced “conversion therapy,” President Barack Obama called for a nationwide ban on psychotherapy aimed at changing sexual orientation or gender identity. The administration argued that because conversion therapy causes substantial psychological harm to minors, it is neither medically nor ethically appropriate.
We fully agree with the President and believe that this is a step in the right direction. Of course, in addition to being unsafe as well as ethically unsound, current conversion therapy approaches aren’t actually effective at doing what they claim to do – changing sexual orientation.
But we also worry that this may be a short-term legislative solution to what is really a conceptual problem.
The question we ought to be asking is “what will happen if and when scientists do end up developing safe and effective technologies that can alter sexual orientation?”
Based on current scientific research, it is not unlikely that medical researchers – in the not-too-distant future – will know enough about the genetic, epigenetic, neurochemical and other brain-level factors that are involved in shaping sexual orientation that these variables could in fact be successfully modified.
And here is the important point. If such neuro-interventions are developed, they will have serious implications for a gay rights movement that is largely centered around a “born this way” response to discrimination – and the idea that sexual orientation isn’t something one can choose.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.