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Surprising Science

Lithium-Water Proponent Stirs Up More Debate

Today is the last day of the Month of Thinking Dangerously here at Big Think, and in that spirit, we are presenting some more dangerous ideas from bioethicist Jacob Appel. Never one to shy away from controversy, he inaugurated this month with the suggestion that we should drug the drinking water with lithium, and he has plenty more ideas that are sure to spark debate. 

First, Appel tells us that assisted suicide should be an option for everyone—at least, almost everyone. He’s fine with a system that, for a very acute period of time, would protect people from their worst instincts: “I think the paradigmatic example of someone you might want to prevent from committing suicide is the teenager who breaks up with a boyfriend or girlfriend and tries to overdose on Tylenol.  And to tell them, for a few days, we’re going to hospitalize you against your will doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me.” But for others who have suffered from chronic depression throughout their lives, who are thinking clearly and rationally yet want to commit suicide, it should be within their rights to do so. 

All medications should also be available over-the-counter, he believes. In the age of the Internet, people should be able to inform themselves about the risks of particular medications without consulting a doctor. In fact, says Appel, “most people go to the doctor and say, ‘This is what I want medically,’ and there are enough doctors out there than honor this request anyways.” The harm of forcing people to see the doctor is the cost of doctor visits might be keeping some people from getting the medical care they need. And this poses “a far greater a risk than the small number of people who might not be educated enough or informed themselves enough to use medicine in a dangerous way.”

Appel also expounds upon some of the other dangerous ideas presented earlier in the month. For instance, he agrees with economist and Big Think blogger Marina Adshade that polygamy should be legalized, but he goes further than that, arguing that prostitution, bestiality, and incest should be made legal as well. “The objections to all of these phenomena are really not what people say they are,” he says. “People say they are concerned about the welfare of the individuals, but what they are really interested in doing is imposing their own social values, or their own religious values on other people. “

And like James Hughes, Appel believes parents should have certain freedoms to choose the type of child they want. Specifically, Appel says they should be able to choose their child’s sexual orientation. “The real concern I have is I want people to be born into families that want them,” he says.”My concern is for the potential gay child born into the bigoted family who mistreats that child, who disowns that child, who drives that child to suicide. And that to me, that suffering, is far more concerning than the possibility that we won’t force more progressive cultural values on people who don’t want them.” 


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