Bioethics Blogs

Cross Post: We have a moral obligation to allow drug analysis at music festivals

This article was originally published in The Conversation

Written by Julian Savulescu Sir Louis Matheson Distinguishing Visiting Professor at Monash University,

Uehiro Professor of Practical Ethics, University of Oxford

Connor Rochford Medical Student, Monash University

Daniel D’Hotman Medical Student, Monash University

Drug analysis would be a safe, ethical and cost-effective way to reduce harm to young people. Shutterstock

At the Stereosonic festival last year, Sylvia Choi died after consuming a contaminated ecstasy tablet. Unfortunately Sylvia’s narrative is all too familiar – a bright future extinguished at a music festival that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

This summer, many young people will also choose to consume various illegal substances in pursuit of a good time. Regardless of their personal choice to break the law, most would agree that they should not have to die for it.

We have a moral obligation to minimise the risk of harm to festival-goers or “festies”. Health professionals have the technology to act on this moral imperative – drug testing. What they don’t have is permission from our politicians and law enforcement agencies. The truth is there needn’t be more tragedies like Sylvia’s: her death may have been prevented if evidence-based drug-testing facilities had been in place.

Australian politicians have typically endorsed a deterrence-based approach to drug use at music festivals, with a strong police presence and drug dogs to catch offenders. Although deterrence methods are undoubtedly well-intentioned, evidence suggests that they are ineffective at protecting Australians from the harmful effects of contaminated substances. In fact, some evidence shows that drug dogs may actually increase harm, as frightened festival-goers hastily consume large quantities of drugs to avoid detection.

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.