Two Oxford bioethicists have proposed a novel solution to the scourge of 50% divorce rates – use love drugs to keep the flame of love alive. Writing in New Scientist, Julian Savulescu, of the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and Anders Sandberg, of the Future of Humanity Institute, argue that evolution made humans unfit for lifelong marriage.
In a hunger-gatherer society, they observe, “at least 50 per cent of mating alliances would have ended within 15 years. This figure is surprisingly close to the current global median duration of marriage, 11 years. It seems unlikely that natural selection equipped us to keep relationships lasting much more than a decade.”
However, neuroscience can help to vanquish evolution and “make up the gap between the health-giving ideal of ‘till death do us part’ and the heartbreaking reality and harms of widespread divorce”. Comparisons of closely-related monogamous prairie voles and polygamous montane voles suggest that at least part of the secret of pair bonding is the hormone oxytocin. “Taking oxytocin in the form of a nasal spray would promote unstressed, trusting behaviours that might reduce the negative feedback in some relationships and help strengthen the positive sides.” And to promote fidelity, another drug, corticotropin, could be used to enhance sadness at the thought of separation.
“We argue we need all the help we can get to liberate ourselves from evolution. It has not created us to be happy, but offers enough transient happiness to keep us alive and reproducing… Why not use all the strategies we can to give us the best chance of the best life?”
A longer article outlining their ideas will appear soon in the journal Philosophy and Technology.
The New Scientist article prompted some head-scratching from fellow bioethicist Iain Brassington, of Manchester University, in the Journal of Medical Ethics blog. Is Julian Savelescu channelling Bryan Ferry (see video) in the 1980s’s disco classic “Love is the Drug”, he wonders. How could chemically-enhanced love be authentic?
“…if you know that that feeling arose at about the time you started taking oxytocin… well, might it get in the way of the feeling? Would a person who knew himself to have taken the chemicals ever really be able to take his feelings seriously? That’s not at all obvious.”