Homosexuality, Choice & Engineering

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In my previous essay I rambled a bit about homosexuality and choice. The main point of this was to set up this essay, which focuses on the ethics of engineering people to be straight.

In general terms, sexual orientation is either a choice or it is not (though choice can be a matter of degree). Currently, many of the people who are against homosexuality take the view that it is a matter of choice. This allows them to condemn homosexuality and to push for methods aimed at motivating people to choose to be straight. Many of those who are at least tolerant of homosexuality contend that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice. They are, of course, careful to take the view that being homosexual is more like being left-handed than having an inherited disease. This view is taken as justification for at least tolerating homosexuality and as a reason to not allow attempts to push homosexuals in an impossible effort to get them to choose to be straight.

For the sake of this essay, let it be assumed that homosexuality is not a matter of choice—a person is either born with her orientation or it develops in a way that is beyond her choice. To blame or condemn the person would be on par with blaming a person for being born with blue eyes or to condemn a person for being left-handed. As such, if homosexuality is not a choice, then it would be unjust to condemn or blame a person for her sexual orientation. This seems reasonable.

Ironically, this line of reasoning might make it morally permissible to change a person’s orientation from gay to straight. The argument for this is as follows.

As has been supposed, a person’s sexual orientation is not a matter of choice: she is either born that way or becomes that way without being able to effect the result. The person is thus a “victim” of whatever forces made her that way. If these forces had been different in certain ways, then she would have had a different sexual orientation—either by chance or by the inexorable machinery of determinism. Given that the person is not making a choice either way, it would seem to be morally acceptable for these factors to be altered to ensure a specific orientation. To use an analogy, I did not choose my eye color and it would not matter, it would seem, whether this was due to a natural process or due to an intentional intervention on the part of others (by modifying me genetically). After all, the choice is not mine either way.

It could be replied that other people would not have the right to make the choice—that it should be left to blind chance (or blind determinism). This does have some merit—whatever they do to change a person, they would be morally accountable for. However, from the standpoint of the person, there would seem to be no difference: they do not get a choice either way. I ended up with blue eyes by chance, but if I was engineered to have green eyes, then the result would be the same: my eye color would not be my choice. I ended a heterosexual, but if I had been engineered to be a homosexual, I would have had no more or less choice.

Thus, robbing a person of choice would not be a moral concern here: if a person does not get a choice, she cannot be robbed of that choice. What is, however, of moral concern is the ethics of the choice being made to change (or not change) the person. If the change is beneficial, such as changing a person so that her heart develops properly rather than failing before she is born, then it would seem to be the right thing to do. If the change is harmful, such as altering the person’s brain so that he suffers from paranoia and psychosis, then it would seem to be the wrong thing to do.

In the matter at hand, the key concern would be whether making a person a heterosexual or a homosexual would be good or bad. As noted above, since it is assumed that sexual orientation is not a choice, engineering a person to be straight or gay would not be robbing them of a choice. Also, the change of orientation can be assumed to be thorough so that a person would be equally happy either way. In this case, the right choice would seem to be a matter of consequences: would a person be more or less likely to be happy straight or not? Given the hostility that still exists towards homosexuals, it would seem that engineering people to be straight would be the right choice.

This might strike some as horrifying and a form of orientation genocide (oriocide?) in which homosexuals are eliminated. Or, more accurately, homosexuality is eliminated. After all, the people who would have been homosexual (by change or by the mechanisms of determinism) would instead be straight, but they would still presumably be the same people they would be if they were gay (unless sexual orientation is an essential quality in Aristotle’s sense of the term). If orientation is not a choice, it would seem that this would not matter: no one is robbed of a choice because one cannot be robbed of what one never possessed.

A rather interesting question remains: if sexual orientation is not a choice, what harm would be done if everyone where engineered to be straight? Or gay?

 

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11 Comments.

  1. Unless one understands a system in its entirety, it is likely unwise to meddle with it. Think of the environmental troubles in Australia over the introduction of non-native species. What need might Nature (or God) be addressing by diversity in sexual orientation? Is there harm done if one interferes with the natural development of sexual orientation? And is it morally right to meddle for no other reason than to order the world according to one’s religion or prejudice?

  2. Currently, many of the people who are against homosexuality take the view that it is a matter of choice. This allows them to condemn homosexuality and to push for methods aimed at motivating people to choose to be straight. Many of those who are at least tolerant of homosexuality contend that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice.

    Homosexuality could be entirely innate and unchangeable, could manifest itself because of nurturing, or could be wholly a matter of choice. None of this matters. No one has convincingly demonstrated that even if it is a choice, wholly under the control of the person, that it is an invalid one. Some might argue for its prohibition based on the dictates of their deity or sacred text, but these are hardly authoritative to persons of other religious traditions or atheists.

  3. “A rather interesting question remains: if sexual orientation is not a choice, what harm would be done if everyone where engineered to be straight? Or gay? “
    If engineered to be straight then I cannot envisage any great harm will occur. If engineered to be gay then I would expect initially a significant drop in the birthrate of human beings. However I understand that gay people are not adverse to being parents, so I imagine in due course sexual intercourse would be modified in some way to achieve that end. If everybody were gay the human race would be at odds with the rest of nature which in the main relies on the attraction to opposite sex as opposed to the same-sex. I find it’s rather difficult to to imagine such a state of affairs, including what good or harm may arise from it.

    “which focuses on the ethics of engineering people to be straight.”
    Is that statement not ambiguous, depending on whether you interpret ‘engineering’ as a verb or an adjective?

  4. Don Bird,

    True-gay people do often want to have children. As such, the human race would continue even if everyone was gay. The novel The Forever War (which spans centuries) does include speculation about the entire human race being gay. In the novel, the main character (from the 20th century) is considered an “old queer” by his gay soldiers. To them, he is the pervert.

  5. Contrast the genetic-elements of intelligence or musical ability, would you take these away of they were not a choice?

  6. It depends on the type of engineering done. A study just came out that found that a certain gene setting could result in a 40% chance of being homosexual. One of the doctors of the study said that soon they will be able to tell if this genetic marker exists in a fetus. With current technology, the least expensive engineering that would follow would be abortion. It would be wrong to kill a person just because they would be homosexual. Once gene manipulation becomes a treatment, then I would expect that just about every parent would engineer their child to be straight, and not just because of the hostile environment that exists against homosexuals.

  7. Doris Wrench Eisler

    The argument makes no distinction between essential defects leading to death, disfigurement or malfunction, and lifestyle choices. There is no value judgement beyond mundane involved in repairing a heart with a hole in it, researching the factors that lead to it and correcting them. Correcting for homosexuality would be like correcting the DNA components that produce great artists – and they might just overlap with that of homosexuality. It is human engineering in the most crass form, is unwarranted as a life-saving/extending operation, is unaesthetic and with bad, unjust and/or unknown consequences, therefore, unethical. There is also the opinion of the homosexual community to consider, unless we resort to all-out fascism. In which case, human engineering-based ideas and values might fluctuate back and forth depending on the regime. One such regime might possibly decide that a certain proportion of the population must be homosexual, and engineer accordingly. Nature, free will and freedom may be relative concepts and ideas about them a little hazy, but they exist and involve the right “to be oneself” however one perceives that, so long as it does not take away from anyone else’s legitimate rights.

  8. Suppose a simple item of medication were discovered which had no side-effects other than what it was intended to do. This medication would prevent homosexuality in the offspring of those who took it. I am wondering how popular or unpopular such medication would be. I suppose I must add here that I have no issues with homosexuality, people are people and I judge them as individuals, and approach them hopefully, with no preconceived ideas.
    I note CK has posed a similar problem and thinks the majority of potential parents would elect to take the medication. Personally at this juncture, speaking for myself I am not sure what I would do.

  9. Don Bird,

    Just guessing, but I would say that more people would use it in secret than people who would say they would not.

  10. Are we turning to The Sex Magazine?

  11. Penglai palace Nanshan, Cheng Lu Jin stem fearless bed Chu man walking alone in the chilly temperature aisle, breathing the recent morning air, unspeakable comfortable. Although the old sister apprentice banned the to toe and wondering what a multi functional pity. But these things are under no circumstances out of the ordinary In this regard nor too cold Chu care.: back for more information regarding going to be the room set Chu Han closed and went about No an thought did remember not to walk a

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