August 16, 2010
A HORMONAL treatment to prevent ambiguous genitalia can now be offered to women who may be carrying a foetus with the rare disorder.
It is not without health risks but, to its critics, they are of small consequence compared with this notable side effect: the treatment also might reduce the likelihood that a female with the condition, known as congenital adrenal hyperplasia, will be homosexual. Further, it seems to increase the chances that she will have what are considered more feminine behavioural traits.
That such a treatment would ever be considered, even to prevent genital abnormalities, has outraged gay and lesbian groups, troubled some doctors and fuelled bioethicists’ debate about the nature of human sexuality.
The treatment is a step towards ”engineering in the womb for sexual orientation,” said Alice Dreger, a professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University in the United States.
It ”theoretically can influence postnatal behaviour, not just genital differentiation,” said Ken Zucker, the psychologist-in-chief of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, who studies gender identity.
Professor Dreger and critics say far too little is known about the safety of the hormone, the steroid dexamethasone, when used prenatally. They’re even more concerned that some doctors might tell parents that a reduced chance of homosexuality is one of the therapy’s benefits.
”Most clinicians speak about this treatment as ambiguous-genitalia prevention,” Dreger said. ”Others suggest that you should prevent homosexuality if you can. But being gay or lesbian is not a disease and should not be treated as such.”
Los Angeles Times