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30 06 2010

“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. And she has all the machinery for motherhood, and therefore nothing should stop that, if we can repair her surgically and help her psychologically to continue to grow and develop as a girl.”

Pediatrician Maria New, in a 2001 presentation to the CARES Foundation, a ‘nonprofit organization committed to improving the lives of families and individuals affected by Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia.’  Girls affected by CAH have been prenatally exposed to higher-than-normal levels of androgens, and can lead to ambiguous genitalia; there may—emphasize may—also be a link to bi- and homosexuality.

New has been experimenting—without any institutional review board approval or the usual experimental controls—on pregnant women, dosing them with the steroid dexamethasone. Notes Alice Dreger, Ellen Feder, and Anne Tamar-Mattis in a recent Hastings Center Bioethics Forum post quote another paper by New & her colleague Saroj Nimkarn:

“Gender-related behaviors, namely childhood play, peer association, career and leisure time preferences in adolescence and adulthood, maternalism, aggression, and sexual orientation become masculinized in 46,XX girls and women with 21OHD deficiency [CAH]. These abnormalities have been attributed to the effects of excessive prenatal androgen levels on the sexual differentiation of the brain and later on behavior.”

Dreger et. al. note that ‘It seems more than a little ironic to have New, one of the first women pediatric endocrinologists and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, constructing women who go into “men’s” fields as “abnormal.”’

(h/ts: Andrew Sullivan, Dan Savage, the Bioethics Forum)


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