So there’s this condition, Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH), which occurs in around 1 in 10,000 infants, as Anna North notes on BuzzFeed. A side effect of this condition, in female fetuses, is that their genitals can appear enlarged, resulting in a clitoris that looks like a small penis. Researchers also believe this gender-queer condition leads to tomboyish behavior and even — gasp! — lesbianism later in life. North says, “To prevent these effects on genital anatomy and gender expression, some doctors identify pregnant women at risk of having a child with CAH — usually because they’ve had one before — and give them the drug dexamethasone.” The problem is, “dex” (as it’s called) has been found to cause “serious medical problems, including mental retardation and mood disorders.”
A team of Swedish researchers recently determined that dex should not be given to pregnant women because the risks associated with the drug are too great, especially considering that having abnormal genitals does not present a medical problem. It may be a cosmetic issue, one that can be corrected with surgery, though many queer and transexual advocates argue that no such correction is necessary. North quotes Anne Tamar-Mattis, co-author of the brilliantly named aforementioned Swedish study, “Prenatal Dexamethasone for Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia: An Ethics Canary in the Modern Medical Mine,” as saying, “parents are very distressed when their daughters with CAH are born with atypical genitals, and they want to protect their kids.” When I wrote about this issue in 2010, I conceded that point. However, author Thea Hillman, who was born with CAH and treated with dex during childhood (not in the womb) counters, “if the conditions weren’t presented to parents as an emergency, they might not demand interventions like dex, that could have serious side effects.” Agreed.