MT18 WiP Seminar: Elvio Baccarini

Biomedical Moral Enhancement of Criminal Offenders

Internal WiP: Professor Elvio Baccarini
Date: Wednesday 24 October, 2.30 – 4pm
Venue: Oxford Martin School, Seminar Room 2

Title: Biomedical Moral Enhancement of Criminal Offenders

Abstract: In this paper I discus some moral aspects of the biomedical moral enhancement (BME) of criminal offenders. My discussion builds on earlier proposals by Tom Douglas and Jeff McMahan. One of the basic assumptions of the paper is that we can do to criminal offenders some things that we cannot do to other members of society. Another important assumption is that one of the considerations that are relevant when we assess the implementation of rights and values is represented by its costs of. Thus, when we assess the justified treatment of criminal offenders, we must consider costs of alternative treatments. On these bases I argue, similarly to previous works of other authors, that mandatory BME of severe criminal offenders who refuse rehabilitation can be justified to reduce imprisonment costs. The comparison of costs is not the only relevant consideration. The strength of rights and values related to resistance to rehabilitation needs to be compared with that of rights and values in other contexts. 

The opponents of the mandatory BME of severe criminal offenders resistant to rehabilitation appeal to values and rights that, in general, constitute strong normative considerations. The intention of the paper is to show, however, that in the relevant context, these rights and values serve at most to firmly ensure to subjects the right to be left alone. Supporting this right does not solve exhaustively the issue. In fact, criminal offenders who refuse rehabilitation (1) render the issue an allocative one, because of the costs of imprisonment. Thus, besides the right of being left alone it has to been shown that their claims are stronger than competing claims, like claims to healthcare or good education. In addition, these offenders (2) reduce the strength of the rights and values that are invoked by the critics of mandatory BME. 

The arguments of opponents of mandatory BME are discussed in three contexts: a perfectionist debate about values, a debate about rights, as well as respect due to agents. The main example that is discussed is the appeal to autonomy, with related rights. 
The argument that contrasts the use of this value in the present issue follows Steven Wall’s theory of pluralist perfectionism. According to this theory, even if autonomy is needed for a wholly good human life, the life of an agent can be better without its exercise in the cases when it is exercised badly. In some cases, because the agent infringes other values, she is not living a fully good human life anyway, and, sometimes, there can be a smaller loss with a restriction of autonomy. This renders the opposition to mandatory BME weak in some cases. 

An analogous argument is used in the context of appeal to autonomy related rights. Again, an important consideration is that a severe criminal offender who refuses rehabilitation does not only require to be left alone but demands support for her choice, as well. In the paper, it is accepted the assumption that society, in general, needs to support capabilities connected to autonomy related rights. However, after that a society has seen that a person persistently uses autonomy to sustain criminal dispositions, it can legitimately withdraw its support to the agent’s autonomy, if this is needed to invest social resources for other important rights and values.
Against the objection that mandatory BME sends a disrespectful message through the violation of criminal offenders’ bodily and mental integrity, I argue that BME is justified. The thesis is that a severe criminal offender who refuses rehabilitation weakens her claim to respect. Here, disrespect can represent a justified reactive moral emotion.

Booking: not required