Slog

Slog Music

Music, Nightlife,
and Drinks

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Re: Female Genital Mutilation at Cornell University

Posted by on Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 9:02 AM

Dear SLOG commenters:

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

 

Comments (25) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Fnarf 1
I don't want Poppas to explain himself. I want him to rot forever in a jail cell.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on June 17, 2010 at 9:07 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 2
Me too.
Posted by Matt from Denver on June 17, 2010 at 9:10 AM · Report this
Packeteer 3
It's the American Taliban and their sex-negativity at work. Ok so it might not exactly that was but it is close.

I think it was summed up best in a comment where someone said that when you take the average doctor's life into account you have a recepie for misunderstanding female sexuality.

The average doctor has been working hard since middle school. He spent his time in school not hanging out with girls, he was studying instead. Often he was studying to conform to his ideas of what he wanted in life or what his family and society expected of him. This also leads to a bias towards conformity which when combined with a misunderstanding leads to a colossal tragedy like this.

The saddest part is the doctor probably thinks he is doing the right thing. This is why we must step in now. We can't leave this to the doctors to self regulate.
Posted by Packeteer on June 17, 2010 at 9:19 AM · Report this
4
Thanks for the donation suggestions. Done and done.
Posted by gloomy gus on June 17, 2010 at 9:20 AM · Report this
Jessica 5
I've posted links to both your study and Dan's story from last night on Tumblr and to Jezebel's tipline. Both posts have gotten huge responses, and all from five minutes of me angrily copy-and-pasting. Sloggers, post these links wherever else you are on the web and see what happens. By spreading it around, it cannot be ignored.
Posted by Jessica on June 17, 2010 at 9:25 AM · Report this
lukeiscool 6
@3
Please do not associate Poppas with the 'average doctor'. He is far from it, there are many in the medical field who do not advocate for his work. I fear that lumping FGM with all doctor prescribed care will get you nowhere in the campaign against it. What is going on is far from normal. It is good to question your doctor, and it is expected to question practices such as these, but don't discount the medical community at large because of it.
Posted by lukeiscool on June 17, 2010 at 9:32 AM · Report this
Fnarf 7
@6, your argument is undercut somewhat by "Dr." Poppas's position as a highly respected and oft-decorated physician.

From his website: "He was chosen as one of the "Top One Hundred Minimally Invasive Surgeons in New York" and was the only pediatric urologist to be selected and is listed as one of New York's Top Doctors and Best Doctors in America." ... "He has been awarded The E. Darracott Vaughan Young Investigator Award by the National Kidney Foundation, The Edwin Beer Award of The New York Academy of Medicine, and was selected as an American Foundation for Urologic Disease/National Kidney Foundation Research Scholar."

He's not some back-alley renegade. He's one of the most respected docs in the biz. And yet, he's doing this.

WHAT
THE
FUCK

Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on June 17, 2010 at 9:41 AM · Report this
lukeiscool 8
@7, touche, and here I thought he was only respected in the "messing with little girls privates" school of medicine.
Posted by lukeiscool on June 17, 2010 at 9:45 AM · Report this
Fnarf 9
Maybe these little girls, and the women they become, would stop feeling shameful about their private parts if DOCS LIKE YOU WOULD STOP SHAMING THEM. Jesus. Nothing says "body acceptance" like "Gah, that's gross, we have to cut that off", eh? I'm really starting to boil here.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on June 17, 2010 at 9:57 AM · Report this
Arsenic7 10
It's disheartening that unscientific views on sexuality are being used to promote a surgeons harmful experiments which, in the end, will harm peoples perceptions of science in general.
Posted by Arsenic7 on June 17, 2010 at 9:58 AM · Report this
Jubilation T. Cornball 11
I'm an immature boob. I can't stop feeling weird when I read the following line: "...Dan's post yesterday about what's going on with little girls' clitorises at Cornell's medical school. "

I mean. Ummm. Never mind.
Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball on June 17, 2010 at 10:21 AM · Report this
12
Here is the link to contact MSNBC (The Rachel Maddow Show)

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10285339

Let's write!

Posted by Rachel Contact Information on June 17, 2010 at 10:40 AM · Report this
Packeteer 13
@8 I see your original point that this doctor although highly decorated and accepted is not the only opinion out there. The point of my post is that the recipe for creating a good doctor is generally a recipe for creating someone who does not understand female sexuality. Hanging out with girls and being studious are somewhat mutually exclusive.

When you consider that on one end we have doctors like this doing terrible things and on the other end doctors opposing his work it leaves the question of where does everyone in the middle end up. We know we have people on our side but we need to educate the doctors in the middle. Yes we even need to educate sex-phobic and conservative doctors who truly are willing to do the right thing for women if only they knew what it was.

Doctors are generally pretty good about swallowing their pride and politics to do what is ethical for the patient. Let's get the word out to them that this is wrong and there is a better way.
Posted by Packeteer on June 17, 2010 at 10:50 AM · Report this
14
Thank you for the donation suggestions and for your incredible advocacy.
Posted by EmilyTakesTokyo on June 17, 2010 at 10:53 AM · Report this
Fnarf 15
@13, the other two doctors who co-authored his report ARE women. What's their excuse? I don't think you can blame their blindness on studying.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on June 17, 2010 at 11:20 AM · Report this
Packeteer 16
@13 My point was not to excuse the offending doctors or give them something to shift the blame. I want to point out that a lot of doctors will be caught in the middle here. There are doctors who don't understand female sexuality and will line up on this position on the wrong side due the awards and success of Poppas. We have to educate them before they start opposing us.

I think anyone who supports genital mutilation is something of a monster regardless of why they do it. So you and me agree, there is no excuse for them so where do we go from there? My first instinct is to rally support from those in the middle. Are you with me, where do we start?
Posted by Packeteer on June 17, 2010 at 11:36 AM · Report this
Packeteer 17
I meant @15 in my last post.
Posted by Packeteer on June 17, 2010 at 11:37 AM · Report this
18
And the widespread practice of cutting the genitals of boys..?

Yup, just another group of selectively outraged poseurs...
Posted by shaking head on June 17, 2010 at 12:30 PM · Report this
19
We are all grateful to the women with big clitorises...
Posted by more than a mouthful on June 17, 2010 at 1:19 PM · Report this
The Max 20
For what it's worth, a gal would have to have a REALLY big clitoris--we're talking like bigger than my dick kind of big--before I'd even begin to find it remotely unattractive. Long as it's healthy, clean, well-groomed, and within medically normal limits, I'm almost certain to be more interested in the woman attached to it.
Posted by The Max on June 17, 2010 at 2:28 PM · Report this
21
Here is the New York Presbyterian (Poppas') Hospital's take on CAH. The part I find most disturbing is:

In some infant girls who have ambiguous genitalia, reconstructive surgery may be required to correct the appearance and function of the genitals, a procedure that may involve reducing the size of the clitoris and reconstructing the vaginal opening.

In some infant girls. Not boys, you'll notice. Never mind the phrase "correct the appearance" of the genitals. I concede that there might be medical reasons for correcting the function, if this refers to urination, for example. Any other function (menstruation/sexual activity) can be dealt with later when the patient is capable of having at least some understanding of what the surgery will entail.

The more I learn about this procedure, the more disgusted I become. I can't even begin to think about the (possible?/probable?) psychological effects of the post-op 'research'.
Posted by Szwagier on June 18, 2010 at 2:41 AM · Report this
22
@21 - I am NOT for surgical alteration of individuals who have CAH until they are of an age to consent.
However, the 51 girls cited in Dr. Poppas' study, as I understand it, did NOT have CAH. They "had" "clitorimegaly." Which apparently means only "Having a large clitoris." So these operations apparently had NO function other than cosmetic.
Posted by outraged on June 18, 2010 at 12:56 PM · Report this
23
Advocates for Informed Choice is a non-profit organization advocating for the legal and human rights of children with intersex conditions or differences of sex develoment, like the ones in this story. We work in collaboration with bioethicists, doctors, parents, affected adults, and many others. If you are interested in taking action to help protect these children, and to be sure that possible human rights violations are investigated, please join our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Advocates-… or sign up for our Twitter feed at http://twitter.com/aiclegal .
- AICintern
Posted by AICintern on June 18, 2010 at 10:01 PM · Report this
24
All of you commenters here, as well as the OP, need to do some research into what is currently being done/how it is being done for this surgery and more importantly, WHY it is being done. For a bunch of well educated people, you are remarkably UNEDUCATED about this subject.

Do you think this surgery is being done simply because a girl has a clitoris that is a little bit enlarged? No - it's being done because these girls are often confused with boys when looking at their genitals. What would you do if YOUR little girl was born like this (and trust me, you don't know until it happens to your child)? All of your righteous indignation would end and you would instead be making the hardest decision of your life as a parent.

Do you wait and allow your child to make a decision about surgery themselves during puberty, which is in itself a hard enough time in a young woman's life? Or do you, as a parent, make the decision to have the surgery now, before swimming at the beach or pool and changing in front of others in a locker room or at a friend's house becomes common?

Having made the decision for my daughter to have the surgery NOW (and other medically necessary surgery was also performed at the same time) I had to put myself in her place in the future when she goes through puberty. For me, puberty was a very embarrassing time, and I'm a very open minded, comfortable with myself individual who has a wonderful mother who was very easy to talk to. Would I have wanted to talk about my clitoris and having surgery on it when I was going through puberty? NO, NO, and NO! I would have put it off and put it off until the optimum time for the surgery (either during puberty or infancy) was long past. And I would have regretted it later.

Trust me when I say this, people - many, if not most, of you idealistic non-parents will change your mind someday when you become parents yourselves and think about this subject.

OH, and for the record, my daughter STILL has a large, beautiful clitoris....but it's just not as large as it once was...
More...
Posted by concernedmom on October 2, 2010 at 8:26 PM · Report this
25
Do you think this surgery is being done simply because a girl has a clitoris that is a little bit enlarged? No - it's being done because these girls are often confused with boys when looking at their genitals. What would you do if YOUR little girl was born like this (and trust me, you don't know until it happens to your child)? All of your righteous indignation would end and you would instead be making the hardest decision of your life as a parent.

Do you wait and allow your child to make a decision about surgery themselves during puberty, which is in itself a hard enough time in a young woman's life? Or do you, as a parent, make the decision to have the surgery now, before swimming at the beach or pool and changing in front of others in a locker room or at a friend's house becomes common?

Having made the decision for my daughter to have the surgery NOW (and other medically necessary surgery was also performed at the same time) I had to put myself in her place in the future when she goes through puberty. For me, puberty was a very embarrassing time, and I'm a very open minded, comfortable with myself individual who has a wonderful mother who was very easy to talk to. But would I have wanted to talk about my clitoris and having surgery on it when I was going through puberty? NO, NO, and NO! I would have put it off and put it off until the optimum time for the surgery (either during puberty or infancy) was long past. And I would have regretted it later.

Trust me when I say this, people - many, if not most, of you idealistic non-parents will change your mind someday when you become parents yourselves and think about this subject.

OH, and for the record, my daughter STILL has a large, beautiful clitoris....but it's just not as large as it once was...

AND, I absolutely DO NOT condone the after surgery testing that Dr. Poppas is doing. If that were my child I'd grab her and run. We went to a nationally known urologist for our daughter's surgery, but the urologist we have contact with now (well known and at a major University Hospital) for follow up care has no desire to see our daughter until she reaches puberty, unless absolutely necessary.
More...
Posted by concernedmom on October 2, 2010 at 8:48 PM · Report this

Add a comment

Advertisement
 

Want great deals and a chance to win tickets to the best shows in Seattle? Join The Stranger Presents email list!


All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC
1535 11th Ave (Third Floor), Seattle, WA 98122
Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy