Jacob M. Appel is a bioethicist and fiction writer. He holds a B.A. and an M.A. from Brown University, an M.A. and an M.Phil. from Columbia University, an M.D. from Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, an M.F.A. in creative writing from New York University, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He has most recently taught at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and at the Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City. He publishes in the field of bioethics and contributes to such publications as the Journal of Clinical Ethics, the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, and the Bulletin of the History of Medicine. His essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Chicago Tribune, and other publications.
Appel has also published short fiction in more than one hundred literary journals. His short story, Shell Game With Organs, won the Boston Review Short Fiction Contest in 1998. His story about two census takers, "Counting," was shortlisted for the O. Henry Award in 2001. Other stories received "special mention" for the Pushcart Prize in 2006 and 2007.
He is admitted to the practice of law in New York State and Rhode Island, and is a licensed New York City sightseeing guide.
Appel contributed a Dangerous Idea to Big Think's "Month of Thinking Dangerously," advocating that we add trace amounts of lithium to our drinking water to help reduce the suicide rate.
Appel is a Big Think Delphi Fellow.
Question: Why should prostitution, polygamy, incest, and bestiality be legalized?
Jacob Appel: I would argue that all of them should be legal. Overarchingly for the same reason that the state has very little interest controlling what people do in their own private lives in their own bedrooms unless it directly and negatively affects other people in a tangible way. And I’m not convinced that any of those particular items, whether it’s bestiality, polygamy, incest do have that affect on consenting adults or between human beings, animals where consent is not really a meaningful question.
I think you have to assess each of these phenomena on its own terms though. And I’ve written fairly extensively on each. I think the concerns about polygamy are structural. While it is entirely not my concern if people want to have three or four wives, or 30 or 40 husbands, and it all comes – some cultures they do, and cultures survive quite well. My one concern would be, for example, the person who decides they’re going to have 40 wives and will let social Security pay benefits to all of them after their demise. And we have to set up a system to balance the rights of people to marry who and how many people they choose with one that controls funding of this in a way that the rest of society can function.
In the same manner, while I think bestiality, per se, should be legal, I think there may be forms of bestiality that transcends into animal cruelty and there the government might want to step in. I think the important distinction to make is, it is not inherently clear that sex between animals and humans is unpleasurable for the animals, and in fact there are documented cases where clearly it is the opposite. There is a man who, off the coast of England masturbates with the Dolphins. Not something I would particularly choose to do, but he seems to find it fulfilling. And we know the Dolphins find it fulfilling is they keep coming back for more. I think you’re hard pressed to argue is this fundamentally unethical. People talk about animals not being able to consent. You’re dog can’t consent when you play Frisbee with it either. Nobody evaluates the question in that term.
Prostitution, we often hear the object here is this leads to vice, this leads to crime we’d be undermining the social fabric of the community. In countries that have legalized or decriminalize prostitution, Amsterdam comes to mind, Sweden comes to mind; crime rates have actually gone down. The prostitutes, rather than being victims can lead stable middle-class lives and they are protected. So in some ways, it’s suspicious argument.
The objections to all of these phenomena are really not what people say they are. People say they are concerned about the welfare of the individuals, but what they are really interested in doing is imposing their own social values, or their own religious values on other people. And that’s what really concerns me.
The objections to all of these phenomena are really not what people say they are.