Sunday, July 4, 2010

Experimenting on helpless baby girls

There are a few circumstances in which it may be justifiable to do medical experiments on an unborn child. After all, someone had to be the first to receive in utero surgery to correct spina bifida. This is not one of those circumstances:
Pediatric endocrinologist Maria New—of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Florida International University—isn't just trying to prevent lesbianism by treating pregnant women with an experimental hormone. She's also trying to prevent the births of girls who display an "abnormal" disinterest in babies, don't want to play with girls' toys or become mothers, and whose "career preferences" are deemed too "masculine."
There are so many things wrong with this, it's hard to know where to begin. As Dr. David Sandberg understated it, "To say you want a girl to be less masculine is not a reasonable goal of clinical care." Neither is preventing lesbianism, for that matter. There's also the problem of unknown medical risks for both mother and child, which in the child's case may not show up until puberty.

The question of how prenatal environment impacts later sexual orientation is interesting and politically relevant. It is also very dangerous to answer. The Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians has often argued that once science identifies a "gay gene" or other prenatal factor, a test won't be far behind. Parents will be able to "select" for a straight baby--just as some currently abort babies of the undesired sex and babies who have congenital disabilities.

But the most serious issue I have with this "treatment" is that it dehumanizes the unborn girl. The whole premise of this experiment is that the unborn baby is just a "potential person" whose "future personhood" can be manipulated by medicine. While I don't deny that our environments and experiences influence our development, this treats unborn children more like recipes-- a dash of dex here, an ounce of androgen there-- than human beings. Can you imagine the enormous outcry we'd have if someone decided to do experimental hormone treatments on newborns or toddlers to try to change their personalities?


Nulono said...

CAH can be a serious problem. said...

CAH is where dex treatment got started. Even in that context, the unknown risks make it controversial. But it seems to me that Dr. New is trying to expand her market to parents who are worried about having a girl who isn't "feminine enough." Otherwise why even mention lesbianism or gender behavior?