A drug to ‘cure’ lesbianism?


10:31 am - July 11th 2010

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contribution by Elly

This week Newsweek reported that a doctor at Florida International University has been experimenting with a drug to treat pregnant women, whose unborn female foetuses show signs of a condition called congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH).

This condition can result in the babies being born intersex.

The drug, Dex, is supposed to reduce the likelihood that the babies will be born with ‘ambiguous’ genitalia.

Only a few weeks ago, many feminists were cheering as Scientists finally came to the conclusion that gender and sexuality are not ‘natural’ or innate, but socially and culturally produced.

But it now looks like biological determinism is back with a vengeance, if it ever went away in the first place.

Dr New, who developed this treatment, spoke about it to parents as early as 2001, showing them slides of ‘girl’ babies with ‘abnormal’ genitalia said:

The challenge here is … to see what could be done to restore this baby to the normal female appearance which would be compatible with her parents presenting her as a girl, with her eventually becoming somebody’s wife, and having normal sexual development, and becoming a mother….

Comments by Dr New and previous research by her and her colleagues, led some journalists, such as Dan Savage in The Stranger to declare this as a drug aiming to ‘cure lesbianism’. But the Newsweek article doesn’t leap to this conclusion.

Dr Petra Boynton , a social psychologist, says this case should be examined on its academic and scientific merits.

She is also concerned the drug was not endorsed by US Federal Drug Administration:

There are issues about off label prescribing that need to be looked into. The issue of research ethics, consent, and supervision of research. As well as the individual researcher/practitioner being accountable we also need to look to their employer, the journal who published the work, reviewers etc. All of whom need to focus on the issue of how the practice involves fit within our wider understanding of sexuality.

The American feminist blog Feministing reported on the case, serving to highlight just how quiet UK feminists and LGBTQ activists have been since this issue came to light.

But biological determinism is still valuable to a range of feminists and LGBTQ activists.

Some scientists who have been searching (in vain) for the ‘gay gene’ for example, are gay or lesbian themselves, and see it as a way of justifying the naturalness of their sexuality to the Christian Right (especially in the States).

And radical feminists, who are so keen to maintain that ‘women’s oppression’ lies at the feet of ‘men’ are possibly going to find it difficult to deal with the fact that this research highlights how many babies are born as neither male nor female, and so destabilise the ‘male v female’ binary on which radical feminist dogma relies.

I’m concerned by this ‘biological determinism redux’. But I am also concerned by UK feminism’s inability to respond to it, and what that says about our beliefs.

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Reader comments


“Only a few weeks ago, many feminists were cheering as Scientists finally came to the conclusion that gender and sexuality are not ‘natural’ or innate, but socially and culturally produced.”

I don’t think anyone has ever cliamed that “gender” or sexuality were innate – they are social constructions, and thus meaningless. *Sex* is biologically determined, gender is merley it’s social expression.

“Some scientists who have been searching (in vain) for the ‘gay gene’ for example”

The gay gene was found 2 decades ago, do keep up. What are you suggesting that being gay can be “caught” like a disease, or that people can be persuaded to be gay – both of these beleifs have been used to persecute gay people – the nazis for example tried to condition people (through a particularly vicious form of aversion therapy) into being straight.

Perhaps you should google “john/joan”, for a horrifying example of where 60s style anti-science social constructivism can lead, before you condemn efforts to avoid intersex confusion

Hold on, if this drug can indeed reduce the chances of children being born with ambiguous genitalia, and it is scientifically proven to do so, doesn’t that prove that it is indeed possible to determine someone’s sex biologically?

You’re trying to deny the possibilities of science to suit your own narrow ideological agenda, Elly Badcock. As Matt Munro points out, there is a gene in your DNA which determines your sex. Would you deny its existence too?

Why is it so hard for ultras to accept that there are such things as men and women, and that the two are different? Can you not grasp the possibility that just because men and women are biologically different, it does not mean society has to discriminate between the two? Or I presume you would be against motherhood and childcare, because they diffrentiate between men and women?

3. Shatterface

There is no ‘gay gene’ as such because *sexuality* – unlike sex – is socially defined.

However, surveys have consistantly shown that attitudes to homosexuality are far more positive among those who believe that homosexuality has a biological componant. After all, there’s no point being prejudiced towards those who ‘are born that way’ any more than you can be ligitimately prejudiced against someone born a different colour.

Research into ‘social causes’ of homosexuality could far more easily be used in the ‘reconditioning’ of homosexuals than biological causes.

And the research cited here is about ambiguous genitalia, not lesbianism. Elly is just as guilty of misunderstanding and misrepresenting this work as Dan Savage.

The title is widely inaccurate. I don’t know whether Elly dreamt that up herself as the subeditors of this site have a piss-poor track record in this respect but it should be changed.

Err…

I’d have thought that being biologically indeterminate had absolutely nothing to do with being a Lesbian or not. Perhaps I missed that somewhere. Are there lots of folk wandering around who fit this criteria? I expect not.

A pregnant mother would probably think this treatment was a good thing, but there will always be someone who doesn’t. The solution for them is simple, refuse the treatment. The question is, should they be allowed to?

5. Shatterface

‘A pregnant mother would probably think this treatment was a good thing, but there will always be someone who doesn’t. The solution for them is simple, refuse the treatment. The question is, should they be allowed to?’

I can’t think of an objection that doesn’t undermine the right of the prospective mother to decide who or what she carries to term.

You can’t claim that a foetus is simply a part of the woman until it is viable on the one hand and claim that the woman has no rights over it’s development on the other.

Shatterface,

Maybe.

It seems to me, having referred to the link given, that a mother that would deliberately inflict that on their unborn child is a bit weird, or cruel, to say the least. The putative child has some rights too, surely?

Would the child not reject the mother in later years? Y’know, knowing it was avoidable…

I dunno.

Isn’t it always the case that someone will find a religious or other metaphoric reason for doing absolutely the wrong thing?

In my opinion, obviously….

Why don’t we see what someone who actually knows what he’s talking about when it comes to biology thinks eh?

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/06/attention_perversely_assertive.php

Guess he pretty much agrees with Elly’s assessment.

Umm, might be worth looking up what CAH actually is you know?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congenital_adrenal_hyperplasia

That it’s illustrated with a photo from the post mortem examination of a newborn might give a clue to the fact that it’s more than just about “intersex”?

And when we do come to the intersex part of CAH…..foetal development is pretty well understood these days. As are the ways in which the sex organs develop: the clitoris and the glans are analogues, labia and scrotal sac, testes and ovaries, foreskin and prepuce…..if you’re an XX you should be developing one set and if an XY the other.

Yes, there are those with XXY, XYY, even Xo (but no oY) and in total some 12 different combinations of sex chromosomes that make up viable human beings (not all of which are fertile). Yes, there’s even XXXXY…and XXXXX. Any combo with a Y in it should develop as male.

Now I’m entirely willing to agree that some people feel that their gender is not the same as their gonadal development: thus sex change operations. Similarly, it’s entirely obvious that some are sexually attracted to those with the same gonadal development as themselves: thus homosexuality.

But all of this is entirely different from what CAH is all about. This is that as a result of hormone deficiencies (specifically, either excessive or deficient production of sex steroids in utero and then on into later life) what should be a prepuce, or labia, develops as a foreskin or scrotal sack, in one who is XX (or XXX etc). Treatment to correct such a hormonal problem should be no more controversial than using hormones to treat hyperthyroidism, or adding iodine to table salt to reduce cretinism.

Please also note that this has nothing to do with true hermaphrodites, most likely the result of chimeras or mosaics.

By confusing all of these entirely separate issues I’m really not sure that anyone is doing the world a favour. A drug that stops an XX from developing a penis in place of the clitoris which would develop without the hormonal problem seems to me to be entirely different from wittering on about gender.

Cylusis,

Yeah, well, I thought this drug was supposed to treat physical abnormality. Seems the claims are a bit more than that. Pretty sick really. And the likely side effects on the parent are quite alarming.

PZ Myers is always interesting.

10. Shatterface

‘It seems to me, having referred to the link given, that a mother that would deliberately inflict that on their unborn child is a bit weird, or cruel, to say the least. The putative child has some rights too, surely?’

If an unborn child has any rights at all that undermines the case for abortion.

‘Would the child not reject the mother in later years? Y’know, knowing it was avoidable…’

The child might reject the mother, it might not. As you say ‘I dunno’. Since the child’s response is entirely outside our knowing we should set that question aside and deal with what we *do* know.

‘Isn’t it always the case that someone will find a religious or other metaphoric reason for doing absolutely the wrong thing?’

Yes, which is precisely why we should set that question aside too. Whether homosexuality has a genetic component or whether it comes from too close/too distant identification with either parent, peer pressure, viral infection or those naughty neutrinos from ‘2012’ there will be people who claim it is ‘unnatural’ and that it should be punished or ‘cured’. That’s why we should be arguing that whatever the ’cause’ we should be pointing out that sexuality is still a socially *defined* category.

And conflating sexuality with sex – as both Savage and Elly do – simply complicates the issue.

Matt Munro said:
I don’t think anyone has ever cliamed that “gender” or sexuality were innate – they are social constructions, and thus meaningless. *Sex* is biologically determined, gender is merley it’s social expression.

I wish that were the case Matt but I have this argument all the time still. And when people use the term gender they often use it interchangeably with ‘sex’ to simply describe ‘the genders’ or ‘the male and female gender’ etc

Cylusys said:

Why don’t we see what someone who actually knows what he’s talking about when it comes to biology thinks eh?

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/06/attention_perversely_assertive.php

Guess he pretty much agrees with Elly’s assessment.

Thanks for that link Cylusys. I think that scientist is coming down on the side of the Stranger article which suggested it is all about ‘curing Lesbianism’ which I don’t think it is specifically aimed at. But I am pleased he is challenging the validity of using this drug in this particular way. And that he has mentioned the potential side effects, especially as the drug has not been approved by the FDA.

I admit to not being a biologist. I think I still have the right to be worried about certain developments in medicine, just as anyone does. I do know a bit about gender, and this article was edited quite strictly to keep the focus on the news about the science, with a little less emphasis on my ‘witterings’ about gender.

Some more good info here:
http://www.thehastingscenter.org/Bioethicsforum/Post.aspx?id=4754&blogid=140

a choice bit:

“Meyer-Bahlburg and New (with two others) gather evidence of “a dose-response relationship of androgens with sexual orientation” through a study of women with various forms of CAH.

They specifically point to reasons to believe that it is prenatal androgens that have an impact on the development of sexual orientation. The authors write, “Most women were heterosexual, but the rates of bisexual and homosexual orientation were increased above controls . . . and correlated with the degree of prenatal androgenization.”

“In the same article, Meyer-Bahlburg suggests that treatments with prenatal dexamethasone might cause these girls’ behavior to be closer to the expectation of heterosexual norms: “Long term follow-up studies of the behavioral outcome will show whether dexamethasone treatment also prevents the effects of prenatal androgens on brain and behavior.”

Roberto said
You’re trying to deny the possibilities of science to suit your own narrow ideological agenda, Elly Badcock. As Matt Munro points out, there is a gene in your DNA which determines your sex. Would you deny its existence too?

How did you know my surname Roberto? Well strictly speaking, Badcock is my porno name, but I am happy for you to use it here.

Genes do determine our sex, but they do not produce only two definite ‘sexes’. There are genetic formations which do not fit the archetypal ‘male’ and ‘female’ binary as we understand them. This drug will not return anyone to a pure genetic formation that makes them categorically ‘male’ or ‘female’. But it aims to remove some of the outward symptoms of people who don’t fit the biological binary. That to me, suggests that medicine, science and other disciplines have a ‘social’ agenda when it comes to gender, as do I.

anyone on this thread want to admit to being a feminist? Or does my point stand that feminists in the UK are largely uninterested in this issue? And if so why is that the case?

I’d say I’m a feminist but I can’t say for 100% that in that statement I haven’t just gone and channelled the spirit of this particular picture:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/upload/2010/07/feminist.jpeg

Here is the link Matt mentioned: The case of John/Joan

http://www.infocirc.org/rollsto2.htm

It is a very sad case but it doesn’t count as an argument against the social construction of gender at all to me. Maybe as an argument against how ‘realignment’ surgery is conducted in the context of medical ethics?

19. Shatterface

‘anyone on this thread want to admit to being a feminist?’

I what way would that help? It would turn a thread already diverted from the issue of the ethics and practicality of treating andogenous foetuses into a blind ally about ‘curing’ lesbians into a pointless arguement about who or what defines feminism.

Life’s complicated enough.

Thanks shatterface I agree the ‘curing lesbians’ tag misrepresents the case and issues at hand currently. Though as others have shown, the background research of the scientist in question does suggest an interest in developing drugs which could affect ‘sexual orientation’ .

I think feminists should be concerned or at least interested in this research as it raises very important questions about intersex, which in turn raises questions about the male/female binary that science (and some feminists) rely on so heavily.

I know you don’t share my perspectives. I am keen to know if other feminists do. Or am I a lone voice in the wilderness?

21. Shatterface

‘It is a very sad case but it doesn’t count as an argument against the social construction of gender at all to me.’

Is anyone arguing about the social construction of *gender*?

I was referring to Matts comment: Perhaps you should google “john/joan”, for a horrifying example of where 60s style anti-science social constructivism can lead, before you condemn efforts to avoid intersex confusion.

and saying that the john/joan case does not show where ‘anti-science social constructivism can lead’.

23. Shatterface

Sorry, posted that last before I read your follow up and it looks combatative. My point is that there isn’t a ‘feminism’ as such and recent threads have shown that diferent ‘feminists’ have very divergent opinions on a range of issues. Just having someone say ‘I’m a feminist and I think…’ doesn’t really add anything to ‘I think…’

24. Shatterface

‘I was referring to Matts comment: Perhaps you should google “john/joan”, for a horrifying example of where 60s style anti-science social constructivism can lead, before you condemn efforts to avoid intersex confusion.’

I’m not condemning attempts to avoid intersex confusion.

I think we might be posting at cross-purposes so I’ll leave it a bit and see where you are going with this.

I’m a feminist and I think…’ doesn’t really add anything to ‘I think…’

I agree Shatterface. But people do organise as ‘feminists’ in campaigns regarding gender issues, and supposedly for the sake of achieving gender equality or at least fighting discrimination along gender lines. Therefore I am interested to hear from people who are involved in ‘organised feminism’ as to whether they think this kind of research is important or worrying, in relation to our supposed shared goals of combatting sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia etc.

If I wasn’t a feminist interested in combatting those things, I would not have bothered writing this article.

I too will hold back for a while and regather my thoughts about the implications of this research eg on how intersex people are treated and viewed in our society.

26. Rhys Williams

I think the title is misleading. She/he might be attracted to men. It seems a sensible approach to a complex medical problem. Surely having the condition is both dangerous physically and will cause the individual great mental distress as she enters puberty.

#5 “I can’t think of an objection that doesn’t undermine the right of the prospective mother to decide who or what she carries to term.”

Surely it’s possible to say that we shouldn’t prevent the prospective mother from taking the drug should she wish, but that we don’t like the thinking which underpins the “need” for the drug.

A less liberal point of view could say that there are drugs society forbids people to put into their bodies and this could be one. It doesn’t affect the prospective mother’s decision to carry or not to carry to full term, it only affects who or what she carries to term.

28. Matt Munro

@ 7 Er why does the fact that something appears in a blog mean it’s from “someone who knows what they are talking about” ?
A biologist/evolutioanry psychologist or geneticist would be “someone who knows what they are talking about” in this context

#1 and #11

Yes, it’s possible to say that some people have penises and some people don’t, and that some people have vulvas and some people don’t. And it’s possible to put people in categories based on these criteria.

But why bother? If it wasn’t for the importance attached to the social category of gender, why should this be any more important a category than what your natural hair colour is? (I choose that example deliberately because it’s something lots of people change – people choose to present in different ways – and because even within the categories created eg blond, brown, there are different shades & not everyone’s is the same, some might be completely different and some might seem inbetween.)

Obviously we live in a world where these categories do have importance, I’m just suggesting it’s too convenient to say “gender is the socially created one and sex is the biological one”.

Elly, I think it’s a little unfair to say that all radical feminism relies on a male vs female binary and therefore needs biological determinism. Plenty of radical feminism is about experience and lives lived so as long as male and female are lived-in categories radical feminism has useful things to say.

30. Matt Munro

@ 21 ‘It is a very sad case but it doesn’t count as an argument against the social construction of gender at all to me.’

Of course it does – it’s straight out of the “sexuality is socially determined” school of fuckwit thinking, as in never mind the biology we can “create” a man/woman “socially”.
It’s feminist thinking in microcosm, we don’t like the implications of biology therefore we’ll pretend it doesn’t exist, or that we can overide it.

#15

Sometimes I call myself a feminist (mainly when I want to upset people, like some religious people or the French insurrectionist I met the other week who said he’d been on Fathers for Justice demos), sometimes I avoid it so as not to get embroiled in debates about whether I’m an ally or a feminist or the word feminist is unhelpful in itself etc.

Yes I am worried about this, for a couple of reasons. First because diversity is good. Second because this reinforces the idea that only certain types of genitalia are acceptable and that makes life more difficult for people who don’t conform to those “norms”. Third because it plays into a dynamic about people being afraid and/or ashamed of their bodies. I particularly hate the statement you quote from Dr New which suggests people with unusually shaped genitalia can’t possibly present however they want, that their sexual development would be somehow wrong and that they couldn’t be a wife if they wanted that, or a mother.

@28 Matt _ That blogpost that was linked to was by a biologist.

Thanks for your comments timf I agree with them and your concerns about this treatment. Because intersex and gender-nonconformity are not illnesses that can be ‘cured’ or abnormalities that can be normalised. They will always exist no matter how many drugs/surgical procedures are developed.

34. Flowerpower

@ 31

First because diversity is good.

Not necessarily. If, for instance, there was a drug that guaranteed that your child would become sexually attracted only to transgendered individuals, thereby adding to diversity by establishing a third orientation, would you administer it?

#34 I wouldn’t seek to determine who my child would and wouldn’t be attracted to, so it’s not a decision I would make on the basis of diversity vs non-diversity. Besides, I don’t think the statement that “diversity is good” commits me to defending every possible course of action.

“Because intersex and gender-nonconformity are not illnesses that can be ‘cured’ or abnormalities that can be normalised.”

Err, no, you’re obviously note reading the stuff about CAH properly. It is a genetic illness (leading to hormonal imbalance in utero and afterwards) and it can be cured by the administration either of drugs in utero or post birth.

You may wish to state, as a matter of public policy, that “intersex” is neither an illness nor an abnormaility: but CAH is most definitely both. And curable.

“They will always exist no matter how many drugs/surgical procedures are developed.”

How do we know this is true? What about exorcism?

“A high-flying prospective Conservative MP, credited with shaping many of the party’s social policies, founded a church that tried to ‘cure’ homosexuals by driving out their ‘demons’ through prayer.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/02/conservatives-philippa-stroud-gay-cure

“Sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church are proof that that ‘the Devil is at work inside the Vatican’, according to the Holy See’s chief exorcist.

“Father Gabriele Amorth, 85, who has been the Vatican’s chief exorcist for 25 years and says he has dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession, said that the consequences of satanic infiltration included power struggles at the Vatican as well as ‘cardinals who do not believe in Jesus, and bishops who are linked to the Demon’.”
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article7056689.ece

You may wish to state, as a matter of public policy, that “intersex” is neither an illness nor an abnormaility: but CAH is most definitely both. And curable.

I am not going to use the term ‘abnormality’ to describe anything in this context. Yes CAH is a condition that can cause death in infants. But I don’t think it has been proven that Dex or any other intervention ‘cures’ CAH they just deal with some of the symptoms. And Dex is under question as it hasn’t been approved by the FDA. If they won’t endorse this ‘cure’ of CAH I am certainly not going to.

Good grief, that’s tosh.

An endocrine disorder that kills babies is not an abnormality?

Shit, then neither is being born without a heart is it?

I am not saying its not a serious medical condition. I just don’t use the term normal or abnormal. I am not undermining the seriousness of CAH. I am questioning the use of dex as a treatment, as are the FDA and many scientists.

41. Chaise Guevara

“And Dex is under question as it hasn’t been approved by the FDA. If they won’t endorse this ‘cure’ of CAH I am certainly not going to.”

Yes it has, in some indications at least:

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/120218.php

The fact that it hasn’t been approved for a more recent indication isn’t a reason to treat it with suspicion. It simply means that it hasn’t been through all the trials that are required to get a drug approved.

This is nothing to do with the controversial nature of this article, of course. I’m just saying you shouldn’t read too much into its regulatory status.

42. Chaise Guevara

I’m not sure what your problem is with ‘abnormality’, either. It’s a pretty factual statement. It’s not like ‘aberration’.

43. Chaise Guevara

“The fact that it hasn’t been approved for a more recent indication isn’t a reason to treat it with suspicion”

*Sorry, should clarify. It IS a reason to suspect it may not work, or have side effects or risks that outweigh the perceived benefits. What it doesn’t mean is that loads of doctors and regulators are saying “this drug looks dodgy”.

Digging deeper I’m finding a considerable lack of articles on how the proposed treatment actually helps on the more significantly life-threatening component of CAH, ie the salt wasting and death part. All I am finding is how dexamethasone helps prevent ambiguous genitalia.

Now if we were talking about a treatment designed to negate CAH entirely, and having the additional effect of ensuring female genitalia developed per the usual, then there would be no real argument. If it saves lives you go for it.
But all this treatment proposes to do is ‘fix’ the child’s genitalia (and possibly behaviour) to a standard more of the parents liking.

So the real question is, are children the property of their parents? To the extent that parents can modify them pre-birth to ensure that they get exactly what they want?

“So the real question is, are children the property of their parents? To the extent that parents can modify them pre-birth to ensure that they get exactly what they want?”

Strange question around here. As everyone around here (myself excepted) agrees that a foetus is absolutely the mother’s to dispose of as she wishes. Dead or Alive as they say.

I’d take it as blindingly obvious that if you’re allowed to kill it off (sorry, prevent it’s progression to being a human being) at will you can give it a pill to stop it having a 3 inch clitoris.

46. Matt Munro

@ 31 “First because diversity is good.”

Why ? Surely diversity is only good when it consists of “desirables”, and not when it doesn’t. Exactly the same can be said for uniformity. Diversity is therefore a meaningless construct.

Chaise guevara:
“The fact that it hasn’t been approved for a more recent indication isn’t a reason to treat it with suspicion”

*Sorry, should clarify. It IS a reason to suspect it may not work, or have side effects or risks that outweigh the perceived benefits. What it doesn’t mean is that loads of doctors and regulators are saying “this drug looks dodgy”.

Thanks Chaise G, I agree with you. I appreciate you pulling me up on that. And also yourself! Very rigorous!

Matt:’@ 31 “First because diversity is good.”

Why ? Surely diversity is only good when it consists of “desirables”, and not when it doesn’t. Exactly the same can be said for uniformity. Diversity is therefore a meaningless construct.’

I wouldnt say diversity is good necessarily. I would say diversity is. We will never find drugs to eradicate diversity of gender/sexuality identities. And to try, I believe, is going down a genetical engineering road I do not want to see our society go down. Although as others have suggested, this is not a new approach. It is just one that I think needs challenging, on the grounds of supporting the actual existing diversity of humans.

tim @ 29

If it wasn’t for the importance attached to the social category of gender, why should this be any more important a category than what your natural hair colour is?

Because men and women are different in many ways other than having different genitalia. Gender is rooted in biology as well as society, in fact the second is a product of the first.

Sorry QRG, but I fear your arguments in favour of sexual diversity are disingenuous in that they are derived from your desire for gender equality when what you really want is androgeny.

pagar: ‘Sorry QRG, but I fear your arguments in favour of sexual diversity are disingenuous in that they are derived from your desire for gender equality when what you really want is androgeny’.

I like cock too much to wish for androgyny (note spelling) for everyone. Your fears are unfounded.

Hi QRG

Thanks for the spelling lesson but

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/androgeny

I am glad to hear that your feminism is not based on penis envy…………

Thanks for the biology lesson pagar! we are really learning from each other.

LOL

All the real guys are watching the football.

Tim @45

Perhaps you are forgetting that the main reason behind abortion is the woman’s right to bodily autonomy. Pro-lifers essentially want the state to tell women that they cannot decide what happens within their own uterus. Should a woman not wish to continue with a pregnancy then its pretty much tough sh*t for the foetus, her body, her rules.
But should a woman continue with the pregnancy does that remit then extend beyond her own body and into the body of the foetus she is carrying? For what appear to be purely cosmetic reasons? That is the question I asked above.

It might also be why UK feminists are so quiet on the issue, because if the answer is no, is that not still, in a way, telling women what they can and can’t do with their bodies?
And if the answer is yes then it leaves the door open for future attempts to ‘fix’ perceived problems with one’s potential children – lesbianism for example.
In short it is not an easy question to answer.

“Pro-lifers essentially want the state to tell women that they cannot decide what happens within their own uterus.”

As one of those pro lifers that’s not the point at all. Human beings have certain rights. Not human beings do not have the same rights. The difference in views over abortion (at least as far as I am concerned) is a difference in views over what defines a human being and thus who or what has the rights associated with being one.

*Shrug*. I know that most here don’t agree with me and no, this isn’t a provocation (or even an invitation) to have that argument again. I’m just unhappy with being told what (wrongly I might add) my reasons for taking the position I do is.

Cylusys: ‘It might also be why UK feminists are so quiet on the issue, because if the answer is no, is that not still, in a way, telling women what they can and can’t do with their bodies?
And if the answer is yes then it leaves the door open for future attempts to ‘fix’ perceived problems with one’s potential children – lesbianism for example.
In short it is not an easy question to answer’

Totally agree. But shouldn’t feminism face up to these difficult questions around reproductive rights, genetic engineering and gender/sex/sexuality identity? I think it should. feminism often seems to prefer to repeat old dogmatic slogans and not actually deal with current difficult dilemmas and conflicts around gender.

so Tim Worstall, as human beings, what are the rights of these unborn babies with relation to the dex drug being given to them in the womb? I am a bit confused. Remember there are questions over the efficacy of the drug in treating CAH and the side effects both to the pregnant woman and the unborn baby.

Delicious foetuses have no rights. They’re far too tasty for that.

Even the chemically treated (and therefore, less-delicious) ones are lacking in rights, not being official human beings yet. I got in trouble in general studies once, many moons ago, for suggesting that abortion rights should extend right up until the birth certificate was issued…

I’ve cooled down a bit since then ;), and I’m not /really/ a cannibal. But in this specific case, it’s just another discretionary treatment – we trust parents (after taking medical advice, of course) to make all manner of decisions affecting their born and unborn children until they come of age. I’m not sure how this case is any different, just because it might have a slightly tangential, extremely tenuous link to lesbianism.

Hello Nick is that you?

I think what makes this intervention relevant and worrying in gender and sexuality terms is the way it is resorting to biological determinism theories of sex, gender and sexuality. I know it is not isolated. But I challenge biological determinism because it is a key discourse used in justifying gender discrimination, misogyny, transphobia and homophobia.

“what are the rights of these unborn babies with relation to the dex drug being given to them in the womb?”

Less than their rights to life itself?

“But I challenge biological determinism because it is a key discourse”

Sigh. The determinism comes in when it’s the Y sperm that gets into the egg. Or the X. Look, come on, please, there really is a thing called biological determinism and no, we shouldn’t be denying that there is in order to play some political game about whatever it is that you wish to “challenge”.

It was a genuine question as I think ‘rights’ get complicated, not just for unborn babies but people who have been born too. I was interested to hear Tims views on the complexity of ‘rights’ in this context.

Not so interested in arguing with someone whose ideas and beliefs on ‘biological determinism’ are diametrically opposed to mine. we won’t ever change each others mind.

“I was interested to hear Tims views on the complexity of ‘rights’ in this context.”

I take Peter Singer’s basic view (although with some serious modifications). Rights are things which accumulate. At some point between conception and the age of 21 (for the US, just as an example) you are fully a human. You can vote, drink, engage in marriage, you also have certain other rights, to bear arms, free speech, to a fair trial.

OK. Now, the question is, in which order and at what ages do those rights accumulate. No, I don’t think anyone argues that a 5 year old has the right to bear arms, marry or vote. Opinions differ as to drinking, 16 with food in the UK, 18 without, 21 in the US. The ability to consent to sex differes: 14 where I live in Portugal, 16 in the UK, 18 in most of the US (although the ability to consent to marriage is, weirdly, lower in many places there).

*Shrug*.

I just think that the ability to live, the right to not be topped just because someone else doesn’t want you around, is the very first of that accumulated package of rights that you get. And you get it pre-birth. A long way pre-birth. Like, at conception.

I know we-ll not agree but, well, *shrug*

I think there’s a writer-contributor Nick, who isn’t me. I’m a York Nick :).

I guess threads of worry could come from the idea that only one particular ‘configuration’ of woman is Correct, and therefore everything that doesn’t conform is an aberration, and so, fair game for treatment. As a general attitude, it’s not particularly pleasant – personally, I like to see lots of variety – but I find it difficult to consider standing in the way of any individual parent who’d choose the path of moulding their unborn intersex child into a less ambiguous female.

Could that be extrapolated into me providing support for parents who would, if it were physically possible (and I don’t think it is), treat their unborn foetuses to keep them heterosexual? I guess. At the individual level, I’m all for letting parents choose the sex, eye and hair colour, etc, as well – although the sex one is a toughie, seeing how it upsets the gender balance in places like china and india. There’s a clear social ill going on there, and I’m not really sure what the solution should be.

Still, I don’t think that necessarily conflicts with ‘homosexual rights’, if you like. There’s room for parents to choose how their child develops, and for the children of parents who choose differently to remain respected and equal in the eyes of the law, and their fellow humans.

The big question for me becomes, how impartial (or not!) is the medical advice that the parents make their judgments upon? The parents will have their prejudices, of course (deaf parents who are aiming for a deaf child is one real-world example, I guess) – supporting the parent’s desire to have what they want, it becomes important that what they want is informed by good, correct, non-partisan medical advice. I suspect many people may not get that.

thanks Tim. I respect you and your views. I am not shrugging. Just listening.

Tim – so every use of the morning-after pill, and every miscarriage needs a death certificate and a funeral?

We obviously differ in opinion drastically on the question of when rights start being picked up, and neither of us are likely to change our views – but I can never resist having a go at the idea that a potential person (a 1,2,4,…-cell zygote, blastocyst, embryo or foetus) should be treated equivalently to an actual person, who’s been born. Sorry 🙂

If drug therapy is out, what’s wrong with trying a bit of exorcism? I think we should know.

The persist refusal to try exorcism is leading to unemployment among exorcists, a highly specialist and dedicated calling with skills which have few other productive uses. I’m surprised that the relevant trade union or professional association isn’t much exercised about this.

Wow, what a thread. Someone developed some sort of drug that might be able to stop baby girls being born with genitals that look more like willies than clitorises and it turns into a sociology discussion about male oppression, gender politics, sexual determinism and a possible cure for girl-on-girl action?

And you wonder why so many people read the Sun?

“should be treated equivalently to an actual person,”

Not quite what I’m arguing…..I’m agreeing that rights differ pre and post partum, just claiming that the one about not being killed is the first right that gets picked up.

This has practical applications as well: rootle around in the current abortion laws and it’s on demand up to 24 weeks, only in case of either danger to mother or deformity of child thereafter.

I’ve no problem with the “danger to mother” provision: the treatment for an ectopic pregnancy is to end the pregnancy. Even under the above very strange set of rights, when there are two with a right to life and only one can be defended……

But the disability clause. The law is saying that after 24 weeks (roughly speaking, viability) the foetus does have rights. Including, crucially, the right not to be topped just because someone doesn’t want them (I’m just extending that right further back). But the existence of a club foot, a cleft palate, then loses that right again. I just don’t see it myself. I don’t see that the existence of such means the giving up of human rights. We certainly don’t say that it does post partum so I don’t understand why it should pre.

I buy Tim’s overall picture, but I don’t think the accumulation of rights should get underway until you have at least a rudimentary brain.

Having said which, if things without brains don’t have rights, can we have dizzy put down please?

“but I don’t think the accumulation of rights should get underway until you have at least a rudimentary brain.”

And I agree absolutely that that is where the difference lies. What rights accumulate at what point? At which point we differ.

It’s also possible to wander off in a slightly different direction. Even if we accept that we’re going to disagree on the when part, there’s still the difference between active and passive to consider.

To do nothing when someone’s right to life is being curtailed (not flying off to free some poor soul being tortured in a dungeon, not blowing up abortion clinics, not invading North Korea to free those dying in the camps) is, in most systems of morality, considered different from actively acting to curtail said right to life (torturing some poor soul to death in a dungeon, aborting a viable foetus (the viable in there just so that it’s not my extreme views which are bing used as an example), killing someone in a N Korean camp).

Not acting to prevent a murder is different from aiding a murder which is different again from committing a murder.

It may even be true (ie, that my point at which rights accumulate is wrong) that a foetus is not a human being with rights. But it takes an active action to stop it becoming so which is morally and qualitatively different from simply not acting to allow it to become so.

But it takes an active action to stop it becoming so which is morally and qualitatively different from simply not acting to allow it to become so.

Not in my view – not when we’re talking about a small number of undifferentiated cells. I don’t see why that’s deserving of any greater moral consideration than plucking a leaf from a tree. Whether active or passive, it’s a fundamentally trivial action.

“not when we’re talking about a small number of undifferentiated cells.”

That’s not quite what I mean. The difference between active and passive is something which runs through most moral systems: whatever we’re talking about.

Elly/QRG,

What’s your beef with biological determinism? As a gay man, I am much happier considering that my sexuality arose from my genetic makeup and hormonal environment in the womb than the fact that my mum let me try on her necklace when I was 4. I think the evidence suggests there is a minor role played by social environment in sexuality and gender identity but that the bulk of it is genes and hormones. Sex determination is completely unambiguous: does the individual produce sperm or eggs? Of course there is a very small number of individuals that may produce both or neither, but that doesn’t really derail the general rule.

Surely stressing social environment and choice in the development of a gender/sexual identity will only encourage parents to be unaccepting of a child’s identity and do everything they can to make them develop the identity that /they/ wanted. In my mind, that is a more damaging behaviour than using drugs during foetal development to correct hormone deficiencies.

No, active/passive is a relevant distinction only when we’re talking about an action with moral content. I’m claiming that terminating a fertilized egg has no moral content, and so the active/passive distinction, whilst you can make it, doesn’t have any ethical implications.

Can’t they just use a bath full of salty water? Works every time for me.

76. Just Visiting

Ed

>I am much happier considering that my sexuality arose from my genetic makeup and hormonal environment in the womb…

Is there evidence for that position though?

In 2009 the American APA did a U-turn on the Gay Gene:

http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=97940
American Psychological Association revises statement on homosexuality

Which says:

Specifically, in a brochure that first came out about 1998, the APA stated: “There is considerable recent evidence to suggest that biology, including genetic or inborn hormonal factors, play a significant role in a person’s sexuality.”

However, in the update: a brochure now called, “Answers to Your Questions for a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality,” the APA’s position changed.

The new statement says:

“There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles. …

Hi Ed I agree with the newstatesman article posted by Just Visiting.

I think sexuality is caused by a combination of factors, that we will never know exactly. And why would we want to?

My beef with ‘biological determinism’ is it is used in discourse to justify homophobia and misogyny. I know some scientists looking for gay genes are gay themselves and like you, want to show how natural and ‘normal’ it is to be gay. But I don’t like thinking of sexuality in terms of ‘normality’ or naturalness. It allows us to think some things are abnormal. The same is true of the sex binary male and female. This is not an accurate description of who we are, but a social construct which justifies how we see some people as ‘normal’ and others as ‘abnormal’ in gender terms. There is research suggesting ‘intersex’ conditions are not just about chromosomes and genitalia, and that some intersex people fall outside of the male/female binary. But they get pushed into it and suffer as a result.
Look at that South African runner, recently, whose career was threatened by the discovery she was not a fully ‘natural’ woman.

78. Just Visiting

QRG

> I think sexuality is caused by a combination of factors, that we will never know exactly.

That’s a bold word to use: ‘never’. Any evidence for it?

> And why would we want to?

Well, if we wish for example to address to the problem of paedophilia…. then understanding how such people reached their present state is of value.

> Look at that South African runner, recently, whose career was threatened by the discovery she was not a fully ‘natural’ woman.

Isn’t that a bad example for your case – as she definitely had biological differences (if I recall right – an extra Y chromosome?).

Overall QRG – you do stick to your guns arguing against any kind of sexual ‘normality’, but in this post and others you’re making bold statements without evidence: methinks you protest too much?

The statistics tell us that most men are by definition ‘normal men’ and most women likewise.

That’s not startling is it?

Just visiting:

My belief that we will never know what causes sexuality is a belief, based on my knowledge of sexuality. I can’t prove that we will never know something, no! If you are genuinely interested, there are loads of books written about sexuality that do discuss both biological and social constructionist arguments. If you want references please ask. I am reading all the time. Maybe you are too I don’t know. I don’t see the ‘evidence’ of your reading on sex and gender but I could be mistaken.

The example of the south african runner, I used as an example of someone who was defined as ‘female’ at birth but has intersex attributes and who is considered ‘abnormal’ as a result. The binary of male and female will always leave us labelling some people as ‘normal’ and others as ‘abnormal’ and I think this is a bad thing.
Many transgender people are treated as ‘abnormal’ regardless of their chromosomes. They just don’t fit gender expectations and norms and suffer as a result.

As for paedophilia, I don’t think we will find the cause of the problem in people’s genes or their upbringing. I think it is a societal problem. But I can’t prove that to your satisfaction I suspect.

Dizzy:

To be fair, the suggestion that this drug might somehow prevent lesbianism comes from a couple of wrong-headed researchers in New York and is based on some extremely tenuous and unconvincing evidence, so you can’t really blame anyone for getting stuck into that issue.

Awesome site, where did you found this data in this article? I’m lucky that I found it. i am going to be checking out back again soon to find out what other posts you have.

Hi Tempie
I was sent a link to an article about that issue on twitter. I have collected a few more since. If you would like the links visit my blog and leave a comment or an email (email address in contacts section) Thanks

http://www.quietgirlriot.wordpress.com

Hi tempie someone sent me a link via twitter. If you want anymore info I have some more articles on the subject. Just visit my blog and leave a comment/email.

QRG http://www.quietgirlriot.wordpress.com


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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    A drug to 'cure' lesbianism? http://bit.ly/a7P8dA

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    RT @libcon: A drug to 'cure' lesbianism? http://bit.ly/a7P8dA – I'll have a pint in a straight glass!

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    RT @libcon A drug to 'cure' lesbianism? http://bit.ly/a7P8dA m < I wrote about the dex drug and the press response to it

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    RT @quietriot_girl: RT @libcon A drug to 'cure' lesbianism? http://bit.ly/a7P8dA /Can you get it on proscription?

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