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The Medicalization of Love


Pharmaceuticals or other emerging technologies could be used to enhance (or diminish) feelings of lust, attraction, and attachment in adult romantic partnerships. Although such interventions could conceivably be used to promote individual (and couple) well-being, their widespread development and/or adoption might lead to the ‘medicalization’ of human love and heartache—for some, a source of a serious concern. In this essay, we argue that the medicalization of love need not necessarily be problematic, on balance, but could plausibly be expected to have either good or bad consequences depending upon how it unfolds. By anticipating some of the specific ways in which these technologies could yield unwanted outcomes, bioethicists and others can help to direct the course of love’s medicalization—should it happen to occur—more toward the ‘good’ side than the ‘bad.’

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94. Another angle on the matter comes from Guy Kahane’s recent essay, “Reasons to Feel, Reasons to Take Pills.” Kahane argues that biochemical modification of certain feelings may be morally permissible if it is the case that one ought to feel differently from how one does in fact feel—due, perhaps, to the sometimes irrational nature of human emotional life. Kahane G. Reasons to feel, reasons to take pills. In: Savulescu et al. 2011 (see note 90). Although parent-child love is not the focus of this essay, one argument that has been raised in the literature is that parents ought to love their children: Liao S. Parental love pills: Some ethical considerations. Bioethics 2011;25(9):489–94. Hence if love drugs could help toward this end, they might be worth considering. On the other side of the equation, romantic passion is also capable of causing people to feel things that they ought not to feel. An example we have already discussed is the profound love and attachment an individual might feel for her domestic abuser, preventing her from ending the relationship. If anti-love biotechnology could help break such a dangerous attachment bond, then its use could be permissible in some instances; see note 4, Earp et al. 2013.

95. Wordsworth W. The Major Works. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1798/2000.

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99. Feynman R. The pleasure of finding things out. BBC [Interview]; 1981; clip available at (last accessed 19 May 2014).

Thanks are due to Marion Godman, Andrew Buskell, Alessa Colaianni, Tomi Kushner, and members of the HPS Philosophy Workshop at the University of Cambridge for helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript. Please note that this work was supported in part by a Wellcome Trust grant, #086041/Z/08/Z.

Neuroethics Now welcomes articles addressing the ethical application of neuroscience in research and patient care, as well as its impact on society.

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