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Scientist Uses Steroids to Alter Fetus Development

Any time scientists seek to have any hand in the process of reproduction there are accusations of playing God. The latest reports online are not likely to help much. They indicate that there is now a new way to help determine certain characteristics of an unborn child. No, this time they aren’t dabbling in the scary realm of direct genetic manipulation, but instead are using steroids.

According to a report, expectant mothers are given the steroid Dexamethasone to prevent a genital problem developing with their growing fetus. The report was made after a bioethicist expressed concerns over the use of the steroid by pregnant women to prevent female fetuses from developing masculine characteristics.

What the Steroid is Used to Treat

The hormone androgen can cause a developing fetus to have genitalia that can seem to be either male or female. It is caused by a disorder called congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). The steroid is supposed to prevent this from happening.

Actually the issue with the genitalia is only one of a number of problems that can arise from this condition. The changes in the genes caused by the presence of this hormone can lead to high blood pressure and infertility later in life. As expected the practice is controversial and has led to questions about morality.

Alice Dreger, the bioethicist who raised the issue wrote an essay called Preventing Homosexuality (and Uppity Women) in the Womb? The tone would suggest which side of the fence she is on with this issue. She takes things a bit further by suggesting a doctor who supports the treatment wants to prevent girls from entering typically masculine careers.

Other Shocking Claims About the Hormone

Others who have come out against the use of the steroid claim it is a push to prevent ‘lesbianism’ and keep girls from ever feeling like they may not want children. Interesting, the steroid has lots of other functions as well. It is often used to stop a woman from going into premature labor. It is also used to counteract the effects of chemotherapy.

This issue is not going to go away quietly. Some are comparing it to mutilation while supporters see it as a real way of addressing a medical problem. The attempt to have some control over the development of an unborn child is certainly nothing new. Like other such procedures however, it will likely spark heated debate for years to come.


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