Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, May 26, 2018

AU professor refutes controversial study

College of Arts and Sciences Professor Ellen Feder opposed a study on fetal gender manipulation in a paper published in the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry.

The original study, written by French researchers Michel David and Maguelone Forest in 1984, champions a drug procedure to prevent female babies from being born with an inclination toward bisexuality, lesbianism or masculine tendencies.

The scientists conducting this study used the off-label drug dexamethasone to prevent the condition in female infants known as congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). CAH causes females to be born with intersex characteristics and causes more male emblematic genital and brain characteristics to develop.

“I have struggled with making sense of [the scientist’s] motivations,” Feder said in an email. “Are they interested generally in ‘fetal engineering’ as you might put it, or are they motivated by prejudice (of anatomical difference), or even by the promise of more research monies and publications?”

Feder co-authored the opposition paper with Northwestern University Professor Alice Dreger and Advocates for Informed Choice Director Anne Tamar-Mattis. Advocates for Informed Choice is an organization that strives to protect the rights of children with intersex conditions and different sex developments.

Feder’s paper says this drug does little to prevent CAH, since it is ineffective on 90 percent of exposed fetuses. In addition, dexamethasone is administered before doctors can identify the fetus as female.

Feder said many parents decide to take the drug because they believe it is best for their baby’s health.

“Parents who have agreed to take prenatal dexamethasone believe they are treating an aspect of their child’s possible illness...rather than try to ‘engineer’ optimized children, parents believe they are securing their children’s health, which is their obligation,” Feder said.

AU is noted for its strong GLBTA community and acceptance of students of all sexual orientations. It is the only D.C. school to have a five-star rating on Campus Pride’s LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index, The Eagle previously reported.

Miriam Wolf, deputy director of AU Queers and Allies, said doctors should not have the power to manipulate or control a baby’s gender or sexual identity.

“Why disturb the natural, magnificent process of pregnancy?” Wolf said. “Isn’t the beauty of having a child is to see how the child develops, grows and matures into the person he or she wants to become? Science does not entitle humans to control the wonders and perplexities of identity.”

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