Ladies and gentlemen, embrace yourselves with a dose of inhumane humanity!
In the 1970’s and 1980’s in South Africa during the apartheid, army psychiatrists picked out suspected white gay soldiers and sent them to military psychiatric units in an attempt to eradicate homosexuality in the army (“Top 10 unethical,” 07). Given that homosexuality at that time was a mental disorder and a crime, these soldiers were forced to change their sexual orientation. That is what motivated the selection of these soldiers.
The psychiatrists had their hypothesis that homosexuality could be ‘cured’ by subjecting the chosen gay soldiers to electro-convulsive instruments, nauseating drugs, castration, and other gruesome methods while they view images of pin-up men. These different kinds of methods are considered the independent variables, which refers to variables that the psychiatrists change to see if it has effect in another variable. (“Top 10 unethical,” 07). The dependent variable was the soldiers’ change of sexual orientation. Employing this technique, psychiatrists thought that soldiers would associate homosexual attraction with all kinds of negative outcomes. Needless to say, the soldiers suffered extreme psychological and physical distress. Some of them even died during the experiment.
If we were to assess this experiment, regardless of its ethical standards, we would say that it was carried out according to the experimental method, which is used to identify causal relations.
Of course, it’s obvious that the aversion homosexuality experiment had violated every single ethical code there is! The experiment has went far beyond employing classical conditioning methods in “shaping” someone’s behaviour, as Skinner would say, and can be labelled as torture. The psychiatrists did not get the soldiers’ informed consent to be part of this horrible experiment, that is to tell the soldiers beforehand that they will try to eliminate what they see as a disorder by using sadistic measures (As if!). What’s even more intriguing about this technique is that it used to be a legal punishment for homosexuality back then.
I wonder how the institutional review board (IRB), had it been founded at the time, would react to the employment of this technique in scientific experiments and in legal punishments. Tell you a fun fact, it was only in 2006 that the American Psychological Association (APA) deemed the aversion therapy unethical and that it broke the codes of practice (“Resolution on appropriate,” 2009). How come torturing someone is such a way is ever considered a cure? How did these people think?
I believe the reason for their behaviour is that homosexuality was considered too much of a taboo that they did not even have the courage to research it empirically and scientifically to realize that torture will not be the way for people to change their sexual orientations and to acknowledge that homosexuality is maybe not a disorder. Definitely an extensive session of debriefing would not be closely sufficient to alleviate the traumatizing impact of the aversion therapy!
Aversion Therapy [Web Photo]. Retrieved from http://www.reverbnation.com/aversiontherapy
Connolly, E. (2012, March 07). Unethical use of aversion therapy to ‘cure’ homosexuality. Retrieved from http://emconnolly.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/unethical-use-of-aversion-therapy-to-cure-homosexuality/
Resolution on appropriate affirmative responses to sexual orientation distress and change efforts. (2009, August 05). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/about/policy/sexual-orientation.aspx
Top 10 unethical psychological experiments. (2008, September 07). Retrieved from http://listverse.com/2008/09/07/top-10-unethical-psychological-experiments/
(2010, October 14). Aversion Therapy [Web Photo]. Retrieved from http://trinitygames.wordpress.com/2010/10/14/the-downward-spiral-of-aversion-therapy/
(2009, May 19). Conversion Therapy [Web Photo]. Retrieved from http://thewildreed.blogspot.com/2009/05/curing-homosexuality.html