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Friday, July 2, 2010

Maria Bustillos at The Awl

Posted by on Fri, Jul 2, 2010 at 2:41 PM

Maria Bustillos at The Awl—like Hanna Rosin at Slate—has her head up her ass. In a post today, Bustillos asserts that Dr. Maria New isn't doing what Dr. New has admitted to doing: treating pregnant women with a potentially dangerous hormone in order to prevent their lesbianism.

Alice Dreger demolishes Bustillos in an email:

Here's the thing: It's obvious from New's writing (see the quotes in our Bioethics Forum post) and speaking (see the quote in the Bioethics Forum post about "machinery for motherhood") that she lumps together all of these things—ambiguous genitalia, lesbianism, interest in trucks and science—as being "abnormalities" that should/can be prevented either with dex, or else with genital surgeries if the dex didn't get there in time.

We've said all along (including in the BF post) that most docs are not interested in using this drug for prevention of lesbianism, etc. Most are interested in preventing ambiguous genitalia. We've also said that there is one legitimate medical problem that dex could prevent, namely development of a confluence of the urethra and vagina, which can result in infections and problems with intercourse later.

So what's the problem? This is a very risky drug that should not be used outside of clinical trials according to nearly every medical expert except New. Some docs, like Walter Miller of UCSF, have said it should never be used for this because too many unaffected fetuses (7/8) are being hit with the risky drug, since it has to be given before docs can know if the fetus is a female with CAH.

Miller, Chief of Endocrinology at UCSF, gave me permission to quote him: "It seems to me that the main point of prenatal [dex] therapy is to allay parental anxiety. In that construct, one must question the ethics of using the fetus as a reagent to treat the parent, especially when the risks are non-trivial."

But New has apparently been treating hundreds of pregnant women outside clinical trials without, apparently, telling women this is an experimental drug. On top of that, when New says that she thinks lesbianism, low maternal interest, and a female having interest in "men's" hobbies and occupations are "abnormalities" (which she does) potentially preventable with this drug (which she does), Houston, we have a problem. That's a serious abuse of medicine, and an affront to the rights of all women, but especially the rights of lesbian and bi women.

Sorry, Maria, but the record clearly demonstrates that this doctor—Maria New—really is using a drug on pregnant women to prevent lesbianism, a drug that most doctors don't think should be administered to any pregnant woman at all, regardless of their fetuses risks for CAH.


Comments (10) RSS

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Vince 1
It sounds like Dr. New is setting herself up for serious legal trouble. I wonder what drug will cure that?!?
Posted by Vince on July 2, 2010 at 2:52 PM · Report this
So my big clit and PhD are pathological? Good to know.
Posted by odonata on July 2, 2010 at 2:58 PM · Report this
Packeteer 3
"That's a serious abuse of medicine, and an affront to the rights of all women, but especially the rights of lesbian and bi women."

I would say it is just as much of an affront to straight women. The idea that lesbianism is bad is tied into the idea that heterosexual women should be subservient to men. They want to prevent women from thinking outside of normal not because the existence of lesbians threaten them. It is because if straight women rethink their position then they are in trouble.
Posted by Packeteer on July 2, 2010 at 3:07 PM · Report this
If someone were treating me with an experimental drug and not telling me it was experimental, I would be livid. And so these women should be.

And I know this is my knee jerk sexism in play, but I am so doubly offended that a woman is doing this to other women.
Posted by Hannah in Portland on July 2, 2010 at 3:14 PM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 5
This is an affront to all patients, because informed consent should include, "The Endocrine Society states that this drug should only be used in clinical trials, because the possible dangers do not clearly outweigh the risks."
Posted by Canadian Nurse on July 2, 2010 at 3:19 PM · Report this
This is giving me a headache. I just... am so distraught about this. Why would anybody do this to anybody?
Posted by Alea on July 2, 2010 at 4:37 PM · Report this
Thanks Dan, for bringing attention to this....tis fucked up!!
Posted by Robin in PA on July 2, 2010 at 8:12 PM · Report this
Hello Mr. Savage. If it were true that prenatal dexamethasone were being used simply to "prevent lesbianism," then any expectant mother who wanted to make sure her daughter isn't a lesbian would be a potential candidate for the therapy. In fact, only pregnant women with CAH, a rare genetic disorder that puts them at risk of giving birth to a baby with ambiguous genitalia and the serious medical issues that go with that condition, have been offered this controversial therapy. Nothing in the email you quote from Alice Dreger refutes this point in the slightest; indeed, I am in agreement with her. I'm just pointing out that it is misleading to characterize prenatal dexamethasone as an in-utero preventative for lesbianism.
Posted by Maria Bustillos on July 2, 2010 at 8:55 PM · Report this
libraboy 9
@8 Would you care to enumerate these "serious medical issues"? I notice you don't refute any other part, by the way.
Posted by libraboy on July 3, 2010 at 9:17 AM · Report this
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 development, 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 or sign up for our Twitter feed at You can also donate to support our work at

- AIC Intern
Posted by AICintern on July 4, 2010 at 11:52 PM · Report this

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