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Bioethicists have accused a noted American pediatric endocrinologist and researcher of what they claim to be the first attempt to prevent homosexuality and bisexuality in the womb. Their accusations revolve around the experimental prenatal treatment of female fetuses for congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). CAH is a condition that can result in girls being born with ambiguous genitalia.
The pediatrician, Dr. Maria New works in the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Florida International University. New is a champion of the prenatal use of dexamethasone, a powerful steroidal medication used to prevent the development of CAH in the womb.
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is a relatively rare condition. Approximately 1 in every 10,000 to 18,000 children is born with CAH, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Children with CAH lack an enzyme needed by the adrenal gland to produce the hormones, cortisol and aldosterone. The lack of these two hormones prompts the body to produce more androgen, a male sex hormone. This hormone can cause girls to have genitals that look more male than female, even though their internal sex organs still develop normally.
Therefore many medical ethicists are accusing New of having an underlying hidden agenda due to New also taking part in research that has linked CAH to sexual orientation. Within the research it was noted that girls with CAH were more likely to be bisexual or homosexual, and also more inclined to be interested in traditionally "masculine" careers and hobbies.
Bioethicists believe New's desire to treat female fetuses with dexamethasone stems from a desire to "prevent" lesbianism and bisexuality, and to thus steer girls toward classically defined femininity.
Alice Dreger, bioethicist and professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine stated, "Her main goal has been to prevent ambiguous genitalia and all the things that come with it, including what she calls 'behavioral masculinization.” Dreger describes New’s work as the first time in history where medical clinicians have attempted to prevent homosexuality.
In response, New released a statement denying the charges saying, "In my six years at Mount Sinai I have not administered the drug to any woman for the purpose of treating an unborn child.” Her statement read, "Allegations that my goal is to prevent lesbianism are completely untrue." New was also given approval to conduct long-term evaluations of children who received treatment with prenatal dexamethasone for CAH.
In turn, Dreger charged that New's statement had avoided the primary accusation that New has recommended dexamethasone for use in treating CAH without notifying parents that the drug is experimental, and that they are part of the experiment. Dreger stated that all the major medical societies have said that the use of dexmethasone is very experimental and should only be used in clinical trials.
A number of major medical societies are drafting physician guidelines on the use of dexamethasone for CAH in a consensus paper prepared by the Endocrine Society.
The guidelines will recommend that prenatal treatment of CAH continue to be regarded as an experimental procedure, noting that dexamethasone therapy can cause low birth weight and birth defects, such as cleft palate. However, according to Dr. Phyllis Speiser, the guidelines are not concerned with aspects of sexuality stating their main concern is long-term safety to the fetus.
Still, Dreger and her colleagues have remained concerned that medical attempts to prevent homosexuality in utero will arise if researchers determine that sexual orientation is an innate quality of human biology. Dreger worries that this knowledge could lead to prenatal interventions to direct humans toward heterosexual development.
About the Author:
Bianca C. Waxlax, M.S., L.Ac. is a writer and Acupuncturist who practices in Hillcrest and La Jolla. She received her Bachelors degree in Communications from Boston University, and her Masters Degree from the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego. Her passion is health, writing, and being active in her community. She enjoys using her knowledge of health and her writing to bring wellness and education to the community.