Continuing our coverage of evo-devo and the gays, I want to highlight the recent inquiries into the use of prenatal treatment of steroid dexamethosone to prevent congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a recessive autosomal disorder that causes the adrenal glands to improperly process cortisol and causes imbalances in sex hormones in-utero. The nexus between this and our previous discussions is that, in addition to a number of other side effects, including misformed genitalia and infertility, a recent paper found a correlation between CAH and lesbianism, bisexuality, and non-gender-conforming behavior in women. I think this is most interesting, as it is yet another data point in favor of the prenatal hormonal dysfunction proximate explanation for homosexuality and it gives some insight into the origins of female sexual orientation, which is usually avoided by researchers due to its fluidity and presumed complexities.
Much of the discussion around the still experimental use of dexamethasone to treat CAH is focused on the safety and potential late-developing complications of applying a foriegn substance during incredibly sensative developmental phases. However, thanks to this paper, some excitable hyperbole, and playing telephone with hyperlinks, an entirely different argument is brewing. Andrew and friends are up in arms over the possibility that parents/scientists could want to prevent children from potentially being gay. Andrew, always one for subtlety, even to decided to bust out the Nazi allusions from the get-go.
All this seems incredibly silly to me. Lets put aside the fact that this is all incidental to anything that actually matters: researchers want to prevent children from suffering the severe effects of CAH like physical malformities and infertility, not “women from choosing careers over babies” and our principle qualms should be about unforeseen side effects, not designer babies. I find myself strangely unconvinced by the arguments burnished by Sullivan and co. We allow for prenatal treatments for all kinds of genetic deformities. Parents go so far as aborting children with life-threatening disorders without significant moral sanction and the act of simply not aborting a child with Down’s Syndrome is sufficient for one to be a hero of the pro-life movement.*
Homosexual fetuses at present also face an unfortunate future (though obviously not as severe as those with Down Syndrome or fatal genetic diseases). They are likely to be tormented or at least ostrascized by peers, contemplate suicide (and act on those contemplations), and feel perpetually isolated from society. One could argue that a benevolent parent would prefer to spare their offspring those hardships. Perhaps more selfishly, they themselves may do not relish dealing with these complications and simply have children that they can better relate to, or would rather have grandchildren and perpetuate their genetic line. It should also be added that the scenerio contemplated, even in the make-believe universe of Sullivan et al., is not the elimination of gay fetuses but their modification: altering their prenatal environment so that they produce sex hormones in proper quantities during development, allowing their adrenal gland to function normally and potentially avoid post-natal complications, the least among them sexual orientation irregularities. Those who find this morally wrong see all this leading to the diminishment of the diversity of humanity and dire predictions of a Gattaca-esque future. To me though, the latter does not follow and the former I just cannot imagine as all that necessarily regrettable. But perhaps I am missing something, or the intense moralizing produced a knee-jerk distasteful reaction in me towards the anti-dexamethosome. What does our would-be bioethicist think on the matter, again keeping in mind that, for the time being, this discussion is irrelevant?
*Assuming, of course, that it is her baby. Ouroboros!