The Love Drug
The Love Drug
Love is one of the most enigmatic yet cherished feelings that humans evoke. Despite how much it is sought after, isolating a compound to directly target love is still very much science fiction. This is due to the complexity of the emotion but also because of the vast amount of ethical considerations that arise at the potential of a love drug existing. However, that is not to say there hasn’t been some exploration into existing drugs that could positively affect love relationships. The most attractive candidate thus far has been methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA. It is the active ingredient found in the very popular rave drug ecstasy. Specifically, the drug is utilized for its properties of “breaking down the defence mechanisms that prevent[s] [couples from] being able to open up” (Anthony, 2020), which is a critical pitfall that leads to the collapse of many relationships. Citing from studies recorded in “Love is the Drug”, by Oxford ethicists Brian Earp and Julian Savulescu, Andrew Anthony reports how MDMA has successfully been used in the counseling of those suffering from PTSD and that similar results could be expected in struggling couples who have trouble opening up too. Although it has been successful in quite a few patient-psychiatrist interactions, it has yet to “become the subject of controlled research (Anthony, 2020), which is an essential first step in the realization of a true love drug. Since drugs that have these properties already exist, however, it is important to consider the ethical implications in their widespread use.
Many people believe love is a powerful, natural force that people “fall into” when they meet the right person. Accordingly, there exists ethical concerns with the use of drugs to find or repair love because it would feel cheap, robotic, and unauthentic. It would be a betrayal to the characteristic struggle that humans have gone through since the dawn of time; the experience of finding “true love”. Additionally, there’s the viewpoint that if one requires such biomedical enhancements in order “for one’s love to be created or sustained, then one’s love is of lesser quality than the love we want” (Naar, 2016). But, if all other parts of our lives are affected and optimized through technological advancement, could improvements not be made to the experience of love to enhance the highs and reduce the lows? Other ethical concerns are to do with potential misuse of the love drug, especially in people meeting up for the first time, and how that might affect populations. In such scenarios, one could image that the result would be lots of attraction and potentially false chemistry in the early stages, so that when the drug wears off the couple might find that they detest one another. This would result in widespread emotional and potentially economic turmoil, depending on how invested couples become under the effects of a potential love drug. If the drug really works to reduce inhibitions of opening up and increasing ability of couples to communicate in healthy ways without developing a constant need for the drug over time, then it could be a viable option for many. Naar describes this ideal scenario: “Perhaps the drug would make the person I’m attracted to motivated to spend time with me, it may put her in the mood to listen to my stories, and so on and so forth; in short, it may facilitate the transition from not loving me to loving me…” (Naar, 2016). In such a scenario, the drug seems like it could be ethically viable too.
In a deontological perspective, it helps to return some autonomy to people’s lives by breaking down the walls that would otherwise hinder their ability to think and perform their duties. From a utilitarian perspective this is viable too, because it could revive potentially viable relationships by having a silent partner open up about their past trauma and seek comfort and happiness from their neglected partner. This drug, if utilized in the correct context, could dramatically benefit overall happiness by reviving viable relationships and also by helping to “free someone whose emotional attachment prevents them from leaving an abusive relationship” (McGee, 2016) which would reduce harm too. In essence, it would help people find their true love quicker, by securing the good connections and severing the bad ones faster. In this way, it allows citizens to perform their perfect duties of being emotionally fair and reasonable in their relationships, which abides the principles of sound deontological ethics. If the liberty principle is considered, one can imagine that relationships are a product of two people’s interactions. As such, is it not ethical to interfere with unhealthy relationships since they negatively affect two individuals? Prescribing the love drug to both of the affected individuals would increase their social control and allow them the rational ability to understand each other without hurting the other. Seeing as the classic view of the liberty principle is to not withhold private speech, which is what would happen in many relationships without the love drug, it seems ethical to prescribe the love the drug to such couples so that they can communicate better and find out for themselves how viable the relationship truly is, without suffering silently.
Anthony, A. (2020, February 9). Love as a drug: Can romance be medically prescribed? The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/feb/09/love-as-a-drug-can-romance-be-medically-prescribed
McGee, A. (2016). Is There Such a Thing as a Love Drug? Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, 23(2), 79–92. https://doi.org/10.1353/ppp.2016.0006
Naar, H. (2016). Real-World Love Drugs: Reply to Nyholm. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 33(2), 197–201. https://doi.org/10.1111/japp.12141