Sunday, August 15, 2010

Misleading Headline

The LA Times has a story with the headline, "Medical treatment carries possible side effect of limiting homosexuality". A more accurate headline would be "Medical treatment eliminates painful surgery for female infants". The hormonal treament is a crude attempt to treat congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a defect in 21-hydroxylase, which affects 1 in 15,000 infants. The infants are homozygous recessive for the defective autosomal (non sex chomosome) allele, i.e. they have two bad copies of the gene. Male infants need hormone replacement. The severest form of the deficiency leads to loss of sodium leading to severe dehydration. The problem lies with the girl infants. Their brains and gonadal tissues are exposed to increased amounts of steroidal hormones that can result in masculinization in severest cases. In other words, the person is genetically female, but thinks and acts male. There are also gradations in between "normal" female and "male" female as far as clinical outcomes. In other words, the disease is both a pathological and a developmental one. Critics are complaining that this is treatment will limit homosexuality. I'm sorry, but just about every woman wants a healthy normal baby. Some will choose to carry a sick fetus to term, raise it, and give it a loving life. That is their moral choice as a parent. But many will choose either to abort the fetus or opt for the treatment. The treatment is carried out on girls to prevent developmental abnormalities in female infants that lead to surgical intervention. Whether or not the child becomes homosexual in later life is up to the individual and environmental factors, despite the underlying genetic factors. While doctors are not supposed to do any harm, not treating this known condition will cause more harm because the affected infants have a real condition that makes them sick. If you are given a pill to avoid painful surgery for your baby or aborting the fetus, isn't that alleviating physical suffering of the baby? If they could correct the genetic defect, then the critics will complain that doctors are genetically alterring the sexual orientation of the baby. The criticisms are only valid if you are knowingly taking the medicine for the sole purpose of surpressing a possible homosexual outcome for your child, and that is all you were told by the medical staff. But doctors have no way to gauge the severity of the disease prenatally. So, I believe that this is making a mountain out of a molehill.


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