The new fruit fly research has observers wondering about a drug to alter sexual orientation. This article by John Tierney raises some of the inevitable questions which will arise if indeed such a bridge can be made between flies and humans.
He quotes an email from researcher David Featherstone on the controversy:
I asked Dr. Featherstone if it might be possible one day to quickly alter humans’ sexual orientation. Here’s his answer:
Although I am not sure my research is a big step in this direction, I think that ultimately the answer will be: Yes. After all, the goal of neuroscience is a complete understanding of brain function. Understanding in science is typically demonstrated by the ability to control a process.This morning, I received an email from a transsexual 5 years into her hormone therapy. She told me she regularly modifies her libido and orientation with diet and drugs. She even sent me a scientific reference explaining why her regimen might work. Now that is amazing research.The question of whether or not homosexuality should be turned on and off is not a scientific question. It is an ethical/societal dilemma. I am glad my work is stimulating the discussion earlier rather than later. History is replete with poorly thought out attempts to ‘cure’ societal/behavioral ‘illnesses’ that turned out, with proper perspective, to not be ‘illnesses’ at all.
This seems like science fiction now, but deciding such matters may be ahead of us. Good to talk about it now.
UPDATE: John Tierney has posted more from David Featherstone with more explicit commentary about what is novel about his work. He ends his emails on this note regarding ethics:
So the question is not if we will understand the biological basis of homosexuality enough to alter it, but when. And what people will choose to do with the knowledge. If there is a demand, I guarantee some pharmaceutical company will make the stuff. Or will the government outlaw treatments for behaviors that are obviously no threat to the individual or society? Would this imply that the government officially thinks that homosexuality is no one’s business but one’s own?