When The Cure Becomes The Defect.

Ladies and gentlemen, embrace yourselves with a dose of inhumane humanity!

Seems horrible, right?

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.

A Clockwork Orange movie image
A picture from a 1971 movie called “Clockwork Orange” where the hero, Alex, undergoes a form of aversion therapy that supposedly will aid in ridding him of his violent tendencies and actions. The government officials who tried this technique on him used to give him an injection that would make him feel nauseous when viewing violent content. The electrodes attached to his head serve to measure his arousal level for them to know when to give him the injection. A similar technique used to be applied to gays.

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!

It’s not merely a button to click for someone’s sexual orientation to change.

Reference List

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


3 thoughts on “When The Cure Becomes The Defect.”

  1. It’s so sad that people perceive homosexuality as a choice in the first place, before considering it a disorder. Aside from religion and all religious facts, I personally do not believe it’s up to you to determine your sexual orientation. Surely there are factors that affect your preference but that’s definitely not the entire reason behind it. I loved the post, good job.

    1. I do agree with you that homosexuality is not a matter of mere choice. I think that biological and childhood circumstances have a big hand in this matter. The thing is here that these psychiatrists used inhumane ways to rid the soldiers of homosexuality, so whether if the soldiers claim it’s their preference and/or other factors are involved, I think we both agree that the methods used are extremely unethical.

  2. I can’t believe that the extreme measures they’ve carried out actually led to the death of some! These men shouldn’t be tortured for the way they are and labelled as having some sort of disorder. Like you said, how can someone not feel any sort of guilt after doing such a thing, let alone kill someone, just for the sake of curing them of something that they don’t see as a disorder.

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