Monday, August 19, 2013

NJ to Ban Conversion Therapy

The AP (among numerous other sources) reports that NJ Governor Christie is expected to sign legislation banning so-called "conversion therapy," becoming the second state in the union to do so.

My thoughts haven't changed that much since California passed similar legislation last year. There's an agency problem when parents' moral and economic calculus is misaligned with the long-term interests of their children and they end up making systematically erroneous coercive decisions, but this does not seem to imply that the appropriate legislative response is a comprehensive ban.

Before I condemn too quickly on faint evidence, I might also consider tacit coercion. Okay, so one way to get a kid to attend conversion therapy is for the parents to twist their ears or haul them kicking and screaming to the center. Another way is to silently guilt them into it. Or to... well, use your imagination. Have you ever had to get a toddler to eat peas when she didn't want to? I think I may have been a little blithe when I said that California should have just banned the coercion instead of the therapy itself. When you're dealing with children, how can you even identify coercive behavior from afar?

What we seem to have here is an interesting application of the end-state precautionary principle: "The Republican governor also said the health risks of trying to change a child's sexual orientation, as identified by the American Psychological Association, outweigh concerns over the government setting limits on parental choice." This therapy has demonstrated harm: suicide, depression, anxiety. If it can't show commensurate benefits, practitioners should be shut down. Right? We have a double-whammy of coercion and regret. It is not okay to force kids into therapy of dubious worth against their will.

It's an interesting lesson to ponder, so let's hope that people think about it seriously. Let's hope that while they're thinking about it, they take the time to generalize the analysis and rethink the position that stuffing kids full of amphetamines so that they don't fidget in class is such a great idea.

It's okay to be Takei, but it's also okay to play. Skenazy and Sulu have at least this one thing in common: kids are human beings too, people. Lend them some dignity if you can spare it.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?