Spanish physician Jokin De Irala, known for his theory that homosexuality is a curable disease, was forced to cancel a planned lecture on the subject in Costa Rica, due to the controversy sparked by it. De Irala was scheduled to be one of the key speakers at the 5th Central American Congress on Bioethics, held on March 7th and 8th, where he planned to give four lectures, including one on the subject of homosexuality. However, according to event organizers, he cancelled at the last minute.
The controversy increased after Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health declared the congress of ‘public interest’, an action strongly criticized by human rights advocates, gay activists and even by the Defensoría de los Habitantes.The issue escalated to the Constitutional Court (Sala Constitucional), which decided to overturn the decree of public interest after an appeal was filed.
According to the Court, De Irala’s freedom of expression should be ensured. However, it ordered the executive branch not to support a private activity that may represent discrimination against a part of society.The judges ruled that De Irala’s lecture “reverts to an stigmatization of a sector of the population and potential harm to their health; in addition, its scientific basis is highly questionable due to the lack of evidence”.
The Court stressed the physician’s right to dictate his lecture, titled “Understanding homosexuality today”, “even if his position is not accepted by mainstream scientific criteria or if some consider this position to be discriminatory”. According to Alexandra Loría, one of the event’s organizers, the decision to cancel the lecture was made by De Irala himself, since he considered that “there were no guarantees of respect for his freedom of thought or his opinion”.
The doctor, a representative of the University of Navarra, declined to comment on the subject with the media, who Loría criticized as “biased” when it comes to handling information related to the bioethics congress. “He (De Irala) is a well-known figure and if he does not find an adequate space in which to exercise his freedom of thought and opinion, he is entitled not to do so”, she argued.
For Loría, a renowned conservative leader and member of Costa Rica’s Opus Dei, the issue regarding the topic of De Irala’s lecture was “completely blown out of proportion”, without giving it a balanced analysis before society.
During the congress, De Irala gave three other lectures, including one on the impact of contraceptive methods on public health.
Meanwhile, members of Costa Rica’s gay community rallied in a San Jose park, demanding a public apology from the government for supporting the activity. Paulina Torres, one of the demonstration’s leaders, affirmed “executive support for an event with a message that is as openly discriminatory and stigmatizing is further proof of this government’s great debt when it comes to human rights”.