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US professor: ‘Psychoactive pill’ should be covertly administered to ensure lockdown compliance

Chemical 'moral enhancement' substances could help people 'reason about what the right thing to do is,' argued Professor Parker Crutchfield.
Thu Aug 13, 2020 - 3:59 pm EST
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MICHIGAN, August 13, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – In an article so shocking it at first reads like satire, an ethics professor at Western Michigan University advocated for the promotion of psychoactive “morality pills” in order to alter the behavior of those skeptical of lockdown regulations, suggesting that such drugs could be made compulsory or administered secretly via the water supply.

The article was published earlier this week in The Conversation, a news site focusing on content “sourced from the academic and research community” and supported by universities from around the world. The Conversation lists a number of U.K. universities as its “founding partners.” In the article, Parker Crutchfield argues that “[w]hen someone chooses not to follow public health guidelines around the coronavirus, they’re defecting from the public good” and that such “defectors” require chemical “moral enhancement” substances to help them “reason about what the right thing to do is.”

“To me, it seems the problem of coronavirus defectors could be solved by moral enhancement: like receiving a vaccine to beef up your immune system, people could take a substance to boost their cooperative, pro-social behavior. Could a psychoactive pill be the solution to the pandemic?” Crutchfield writes.

“It’s a far-out proposal that’s bound to be controversial,” he concedes, but nevertheless is one Crutchfield believes “is worth at least considering, given the importance of social cooperation in the struggle to get COVID-19 under control.”

Crutchfield says that one challenge in implementing such a system is that “the defectors who need moral enhancement are also the least likely to sign up for it.” 

“As some have argued, a solution would be to make moral enhancement compulsory or administer it secretly, perhaps via the water supply. These actions require weighing other values,” he writes.

The chemicals mentioned by Crutchfield are oxytocin and psilocybin, the active component of “magic mushrooms,” which he says “may cause a person to be more empathetic and altruistic, more giving and generous.”

Crutchfield says that his research in bioethics “focuses on questions like how to induce those who are noncooperative to get on board with doing what’s best for the public good.“ 

Twitter users appalled by Crutchfield’s article did their own research on his academic history, and posted a 2019 paper of his entitled “Compulsory moral bioenhancement should be covert.”

In at least one instance Twitter subsequently placed the link behind a warning sign, saying “The following media includes potentially sensitive content.”

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The abstract for that paper reads:

Some theorists argue that moral bioenhancement ought to be compulsory. I take this argument one step further, arguing that if moral bioenhancement ought to be compulsory, then its administration ought to be covert rather than overt. This is to say that it is morally preferable for compulsory moral bioenhancement to be administered without the recipients knowing that they are receiving the enhancement. My argument for this is that if moral bioenhancement ought to be compulsory, then its administration is a matter of public health, and for this reason should be governed by public health ethics. I argue that the covert administration of a compulsory moral bioenhancement program better conforms to public health ethics than does an overt compulsory program. In particular, a covert compulsory program promotes values such as liberty, utility, equality, and autonomy better than an overt program does. Thus, a covert compulsory moral bioenhancement program is morally preferable to an overt moral bioenhancement program.

A number of Crutchfield’s articles can be found on the U.S. government’s PubMed.gov site.

One is titled “It is better to be ignorant of our moral enhancement: A reply to Zambrano.” The abstract for that paper reads:

In a recent issue of Bioethics, I argued that compulsory moral bioenhancement should be administered covertly. Alexander Zambrano has criticized this argument on two fronts. First, contrary to my claim, Zambrano claims that the prevention of ultimate harm by covert moral bioenhancement fails to meet conditions for permissible liberty-restricting public health interventions. Second, contrary to my claim, Zambrano claims that covert moral bioenhancement undermines autonomy to a greater degree than does overt moral bioenhancement. In this paper, I rebut both of these arguments, then finish by noting important avenues of research that Zambrano's arguments motivate.

LifeSiteNews has written to Crutchfield to ask him whether he believes that the covert administration of psychoactive “morally enhancing” chemicals is in keeping with the U.S. Constitution. We have not received a response as of press time.

In Melbourne, Australia, the political authorities have adopted simpler methods for ensuring the public complies with government lockdown regulations, with the police given the power to enter private homes without a warrant or permission to carry out “spot checks.” The Victoria police chief commissioner unapologetically explained that officers have in some instances been smashing car windows due to people inside the cars not cooperating with them or following the newly imposed health guidelines.


  bioethics, coronavirus, morality pill, parker crutchfield, psychoactive drug, university of western michigan

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