Ellen Feder and I are completely overwhelmed by your comments on Dan's post yesterday about what's going on with little girls' clitorises at Cornell's medical school. We can't tell you how grateful we are to hear your outrage and your desire to help.
For many years, we've tried talking to surgeons like Dr. Poppas only to be treated as if we are hysterical radicals who can't think straight about "cosmetically offensive" genitals. They accuse us of wanting to experiment on these children by providing them any needed psychosocial help (including access for their parents to mental health professionals) and holding off on these elective surgeries that are not proven to be necessary, safe, or effective.
We so appreciate that you get this is an issue of human rights and social justice. As many of you note, in this country there is crazy asymmetry regarding what parents and doctors are and aren't allowed to decide about their children's genitals. What you're allowed to do depends on whether your child is labeled boy, girl, or other, whether you are Muslim, Jewish, or Christian, whether your family is from Europe or from Africa. We wish there was universal protection of children's healthy genitals.
We are grateful to the women with big clitorises who wrote in to say they're fine. This is what we hear from many women with big clits! But when we try to tell doctors like Poppas this, they act as if it is irrelevant information. They only study those they have cut, not those who have slipped through the system of heterosexual medical policing.
How can you help? Writing to Cornell individually is great! Thank you! But we know from history that social justice work is most effective when the media pays lots of attention. (Thanks, Dan!) Help us get the attention of Rachel Maddow and others who will cover this story.
Help financially support the groups that have helped me and Ellen. Donate to the Hastings Center, the brave, ethical, independent bioethics center that has aired our concerns. (Our dollars to the Hastings Center help push back against ethicists who can be bought to fight back at us.) Donate to Advocates for Informed Choice, a legal aid group dedicated to protecting the rights of these families. (By the way, Ellen and I are not paid by either group, and donate to both. Our universities financially support our work.)
By the way, we encouraged the editors of Bioethics Forum to offer Dr. Poppas the opportunity to post a response to "Bad Vibrations." We hope he'll explain himself there and elsewhere.
Alice Dreger Professor of Clinical Medical Humanities & Bioethics Northwestern University