Human Exceptionalism

Involuntary Medication: Should We Put Lithium in the Water Supply?

Our obsession with preventing all suffering could result one day in being involuntarily drugged with a psychotropic.    According to the New York Times Magazine, scientists are seriously proposing that lithium one day be put in the water supply. From the story:

In The British Journal of Psychiatry earlier this year, the neuropsychiatrist Takeshi Terao and other researchers showed that communities in Japan’s Oita Prefecture with higher levels of naturally occurring lithium in their water supplies had fewer suicides than those with lower levels..Lithium in prescription doses (say, 600 to 900 milligrams) helps reduce mood swings in patients with bipolar disorder, but Terao and his colleagues speculate that drinking even small amounts over time has a cumulative effect, building up a resistance to the onset of mood swings in the first place. They note that more work is needed before public-policy makers can consider adding lithium to water supplies. Lithium, after all, can be toxic, and though the levels in the Oita study are too low to have an immediate effect…

Nevertheless, Terao and his team contend that the lithium levels in their study are low enough not to cause significant side effects, and that in any case the benefits outweigh the risks. In a follow-up paper, they even posited that adding lithium to drinking water could “potentially offer an easy, cheap and substantial strategy for worldwide suicide prevention.”

Before you say, “It can’t happen here,” remember–it was just boosted with a straight face in the New York Times.  Moreover, if you can imagine it, someone in power will want to do it.  Don’t be surprised if advocates in the new pseudo field of neuro-ethics advocate, one day soon, that we all be medicated in the name of preventing suffering.  Soma, here we come.


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