If we can’t kill them, why not cure them?

So because of a few men in robes, we can’t kill those who torture and rape children.

It’s unlikely we can convince them that child rape is a bad idea. Probably as hard as “curing” homosexuality. (I don’t think sexual orientations are easy to change.)

So now that we can create mice with Asian hair, and we know personal DNA samples change over a lifetime anyway, why not direct that change in a way that can cure people and turn criminals into good citizens?

Bonus points if you can give a good reason that doesn’t rely on time travel (believing we can give someone back lost time), analogies to the National-Socialist German Workers Party, or revenge.

12 thoughts on “If we can’t kill them, why not cure them?”

  1. You know much more about this sort of thing than I so I’ll ask; how much of being a criminal is genetically motivated as opposed to behavioral in nature? Is pedophilia, beyond being a crime, a sexual orientation, a genetic malformation or a behavioral malady?

  2. “So now that we can create mice with Asian hair, and we know personal DNA samples change over a lifetime anyway, why not direct that change in a way that can cure people and turn criminals into good citizens.”

    First of all, the changes in DNA you are referencing (“personal DNA samples change over a lifetime”) are not changes in the DNA itself (ie not nucleotide changes in the DNA sequence), but rather, “things” that are put onto DNA that can influence its expression, among other things.

    The mice with asian hair does reflect changes to the DNA itself that results in a phenotypic manifestation (asian hair). But this was not an engineered change; this was “discovered.” Without identifying this single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)–a change in a single base pair in DNA–we may never have known that that particular gene had anything to do with hair.

    So, my play for the bonus points is predicated upon the fact that we still do not understand the myriad interactions of our genes and proteins and how they influence us.

    Let’s say that we identify a SNP that predisposes a person to violent crime (based upon genetic studies of violent criminals). That very same SNP in another individual may predispose them to taking chances in business or make them very creative or make them a war hero…or maybe it helped their forebears survive an ice age. It’s all about context.

    Our malleable genome is our means of survival as a species.

    OK, so wait until they express the anti-social behavior before “curing” them. Again, this would require a level of knowledge we currently do not have. And how can we “cure” something in every cell of their body? What if the violent outburst were the result of external influence? Your previous post about drug treatment might work (assuming we understand exactly how the drug works and how the genes it influences interact with other genes and how that is expressed in the individual); even if there are side-effects, who cares? They’re criminals, right?

    Do they stay on this drug for life or do they have a limited sentence, depending on the crime?

    What is your definition of a “good citizen?” One that goes about his business without bothering his fellow citizens? If so, why not prevent crime before it happens by making everyone a good citizen from the get go? 😉

    I think I’ve said enough for a first time poster; besides, I’m exhausted and this topic could take up many pages of discourse, and I think it better pursued in a conversational format, so I’ll wait to hear what you have to say before going on. Assuming, of course, you find my words interesting.

    For context, I’ve been working in the molecular/cellular/computational biology field for ~20 years.

    And I know that your post was in response to the SCOTUS ruling regarding child molesters and I am in no way defending them; I actually am not against killing them, depending on circumstances.

  3. jrg,

    Your comment is both insightful & well written. Thanks for posting it, and thanks for joining the tdaxp community!

    Your clarification of the cited stories is appreciated!

    So, my play for the bonus points is predicated upon the fact that we still do not understand the myriad interactions of our genes and proteins and how they influence us.

    This is fair, though a similar criticism has long been used by conservatives against any government initiative. Culture, like genetics, is a storehouse of all that has helped us survive so far. Changing anypart of it — such as gene therapy, recognizing women as equal citizens, etc. — involves tinkering with a complex adaptive system we don’t fully understand.

    Let’s say that we identify a SNP that predisposes a person to violent crime (based upon genetic studies of violent criminals). That very same SNP in another individual may predispose them to taking chances in business or make them very creative or make them a war hero…

    I think this is extremely likely. Still, maiting is not random, so the question when dealing with a low-intelligence, low-impulse-control, rapid-time-discounting, anti-social criminal is not whether any of these could be useful in some context, but whether all of them are useful now (for him & his family).

    I wouldn’t be surprised if crime, like schizophrenia, is an effect of several factors, many of which are beneficial by themselves.

    or maybe it helped their forebears survive an ice ageOK, so wait until they express the anti-social behavior before “curing” them. Again, this would require a level of knowledge we currently do not have. And how can we “cure” something in every cell of their body? What if the violent outburst were the result of external influence? Your previous post about drug treatment might work (assuming we understand exactly how the drug works and how the genes it influences interact with other genes and how that is expressed in the individual); even if there are side-effects, who cares? They’re criminals, right?

    The first highlighted point is valid. The second is not. The third abandons reason.

    Clearly, we’re at the beginning of this science. That we need to know more is a given. However, it is not true that we must hold up a new technique to a higher standard than any other method we have ever used. We will never “understand exactly,” and indeed we don’t “understand exactly” what we are doing now.

    The weakness of the third highlighted section can be seen by changing the introduction…. Your proposal to continue the use of prisons might work (assuming we understand exactly how prisons work and how the cognitive structures it influences interact with the environment and how that is expressed in behavior); even if they are side-effects, who cares? The’re criminals, right?

    Do they stay on this drug for life or do they have a limited sentence, depending on the crime?

    Is Martha Steward’s sentence limited or unlimited? If she in prison? Can she buy a firearm?

    Perhaps a better analogy is the current regime of laws against sexual offenders, defended on account of the high recidivism rate of those criminals. It certainly seems just to vary the post-prison restrictions on a criminal on the nature of their crime, and the nature of themselves (their likeliness to commit the same crime again, etc.).

    What is your definition of a “good citizen?” One that goes about his business without bothering his fellow citizens?

    Let’s keep it simple: those who do not intiative violence against others.

    If so, why not prevent crime before it happens by making everyone a good citizen from the get go?

    Is this a serious proposal, and if so how would you implement it?

    I think I’ve said enough for a first time poster; besides, I’m exhausted and this topic could take up many pages of discourse, and I think it better pursued in a conversational format, so I’ll wait to hear what you have to say before going on. Assuming, of course, you find my words interesting.

    Excellent comment. Thanks for stopping by! I hope to hear from you again! 🙂

  4. http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/06/25/if-we-cant-kill-them-why-not-cure-them.html#comment-92507

    Dan,

    Thanks for the kind words!

    I’m not quite sure which HTML tags your blog accepts for formatting, so hopefully the following will not come out a garbled mess.

    So, my play for the bonus points is predicated upon the fact that we still do not understand the myriad interactions of our genes and proteins and how they influence us.

    This is fair, though a similar criticism has long been used by conservatives against any government initiative. Culture, like genetics, is a storehouse of all that has helped us survive so far. Changing anypart of it — such as gene therapy, recognizing women as equal citizens, etc. — involves tinkering with a complex adaptive system we don’t fully understand.

    Agreed, but I think that manipulating our genetics in a way other than through breeding to achieve changes in behavior should require a far better understanding of the ramifications as we would be altering our very selves rather than introducing something that some may argue would disrupt society. But your point is well taken.

    OK, so wait until they express the anti-social behavior before “curing” them. Again, this would require a level of knowledge we currently do not have. And how can we “cure” something in every cell of their body? What if the violent outburst were the result of external influence? Your previous post about drug treatment might work (assuming we understand exactly how the drug works and how the genes it influences interact with other genes and how that is expressed in the individual); even if there are side-effects, who cares? They’re criminals, right?

    The first highlighted point is valid. The second is not. The third abandons reason.

    With regards to the third point, I should have included a winking emoticon to show I was being facetious.

    You continued:

    Clearly, we’re at the beginning of this science. That we need to know more is a given. However, it is not true that we must hold up a new technique to a higher standard than any other method we have ever used. We will never “understand exactly,” and indeed we don’t “understand exactly” what we are doing now.

    What I was saying was under the assumption that you were arguing that we can take recent scientific findings regarding our genetics and develop a new class of drugs or techniques that would alter a person such that they would no longer act out antisocial behavior. If this is the case, I do believe my second point is valid; indeed, we already have an existing framework with the FDA and the drug approval process (as flawed as it is). If you were talking about a drug that simply alters behavior, like prozac or similar, then I agree that there’s no need for higher standards than are currently in play. But if you are talking about drugs or techniques that actually alter our DNA, then I would argue that new standards should be used to determine safety and side-effects as the effects might be permanent.

    If so, why not prevent crime before it happens by making everyone a good citizen from the get go?

    Is this a serious proposal, and if so how would you implement it?

    Not really serious (and not something I would want to have implemented), but if you want to go into dystopian sci-fi realms, you could have everyone tested for known genetic markers that predispose them to antisocial behavior and then require them to take drugs that suppress that behavior (or genetically alter them such that they are no longer a risk (or at risk, depending on your point of view 😉 )). It would be easier than to identify such persons and then make sure they have a nurturing environment such that potential antisocial behavior is channeled into other more beneficial directions.

    I would much prefer the latter, but we already know that non-nurturing environments can lead to antisocial behavior, yet not much is done about it. It’s a societal issue.

    This leads into the whole idea of personalized medicine, where one would be screened for genetic predispositions to various diseases such that treatments could be preventative rather than waiting for the disease to manifest and then treating it. I can see this eventually incorporating knowledge regarding psychiatric issues.

    So, bottom line is that I agree that if there is a technique or drug that can prevent antisocial behavior in those who have committed crimes, then they should be used. If these techniques differ from traditional drug therapies and actively manipulate our genetic material, then new criteria for determining safety and efficacy and long-term consequences need to be implemented.

  5. jrg,

    Thank you for kindly commenting!

    What I was saying was under the assumption that you were arguing that we can take recent scientific findings regarding our genetics and develop a new class of drugs or techniques that would alter a person such that they would no longer act out antisocial behavior. If this is the case, I do believe my second point is valid; indeed, we already have an existing framework with the FDA and the drug approval process (as flawed as it is). If you were talking about a drug that simply alters behavior, like prozac or similar, then I agree that there’s no need for higher standards than are currently in play. But if you are talking about drugs or techniques that actually alter our DNA, then I would argue that new standards should be used to determine safety and side-effects as the effects might be permanent.

    I agree with this, but we already make masive and potentially irreversible social changes in other areas. If we believe our society is resilient enough to survive massive, continuous changes of unknown effect in culture, or global environment, then there’s no reason (other than a prior fear of genetics) to avoid it in genetics.

    Indeed, it strikes me as odd that the “we can’t mess with this system” fear of, say, CO2 in the atmosphere so rarely coincides in the same person as a “We can’t mess with this system” fear of homosexual marriages, or of genetic changes, etc.

  6. I agree with this, but we already make masive and potentially irreversible social changes in other areas. If we believe our society is resilient enough to survive massive, continuous changes of unknown effect in culture, or global environment, then there’s no reason (other than a prior fear of genetics) to avoid it in genetics.

    Indeed, it strikes me as odd that the “we can’t mess with this system” fear of, say, CO2 in the atmosphere so rarely coincides in the same person as a “We can’t mess with this system” fear of homosexual marriages, or of genetic changes, etc.

    I’m not saying don’t mess with it (though, I’m sure many will); it is most certainly going to be messed with. I’m just saying that we should have a better understanding of the consequences and have more stringent guidelines. Not unreasonable, I think.

  7. Look at how the Supreme Court went from Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986 to Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. The Supreme Court did a complete 180 degree turn on a previous decision. Rather than trying to develop some entirely new branch of genetic engineering, physiological psychology and apply these new and vaguely understood technologies in a reproducible manner in order to cure depraved sexual predators, it seems a lot easier to get five sane justices on the Supreme Court to overturn this decision so that we can kill them (sexual predators, not Supreme Court justices).

    Alternately, if the Supreme Court persists in decisions that are so widely divergent from the views of a large majority of the public, a President might be politically able to emulate the actions of Andrew Jackson WRT the Cherokee i.e. ignore the Supreme Court and state “They’ve made their decision, now let’s seem them enforce it.”

  8. jrg,

    I’m not saying don’t mess with it (though, I’m sure many will); it is most certainly going to be messed with. I’m just saying that we should have a better understanding of the consequences and have more stringent guidelines. Not unreasonable, I think.

    Definitely.

    Mark in Texas,

    Pedophilia is not just heritable, but also correlates with traits such as shortness [1] and left-handedness. [2] Regardless of whether it is just to kill pedophiles who have been caught, cures such as stem cell therapy [3] may work to cure not only the criminals, but also relaties who may be predisposed to pedophilia.

    I imagine a good fraction of the population is so horrified at the thought of pedophilia (even if they are “closeted pedophiles themselves”), that if told, “we’ve determined you have a 10% chance of molesting a young chld. Take these pills to prevent that , and we’ll give you $100,000 on top,” would accept the offer.

    [1] http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2007/10/pedophiles-are-short.php
    [2] http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2007/02/left-handedness-and-pedophilia-brain.php
    [3] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/07/03/stem-cell-therapy.html

  9. I think that the willingness of people to take the pills would depend on the reliability of prediction and medical outcome as well as the side effects. An increased chance of cancer, heart attack, weight gain, loss of sex drive, asthma, itchy scalp or the heartbreak of psoriasis would all act as disincentives.

    Given human nature and the nature of governments, I think that they would be far more likely to spend that $100,000 per individual creating a new bureaucratic fiefdom to find and force potential pedophiles into the program rather than giving it as an incentive. The political left is way, way, way more fond of force rather than persuasion.

  10. Mark,

    Certainly the mix of benefits and side effects would matter.

    The rise of “tax rebate checks,” tax credits, and other instances where government services have been monetized makes me more hopeful on the idea of government incentives than you are. Criticizing the “political left” for opposing monetization of government incentives is to be stuck in a political era before Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.

  11. Funny thing is that Gordon Brown seems to be trying to move Britain and the Labour Party back to that era. The hard core of that party was always unhappy with the way Blair governed.

    Similarly, despite the the noises that Barack Obama is making now that he is in the general election, his voting record is the most left wing in the Senate and my prediction is that if elected he will govern a lot more like Jimmy Carter than like Bill Clinton.

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