Gay Rights, Women’s Rights, and Technology

January 17, 2007 · By

Barbara Kay has fun discussing the implications of research conducted by Oregon State University scientists who have found that hormone treatment has “straightened” gay sheep:

Such a breakthrough could enormously benefit people in the sheep-breeding business. But further research along these lines might eventually lead to something as rudimentary as a hormonal patch for pregnant women that would reduce or eliminate the possibility of a homosexual child. The Oregon State professor leading the study, Charles Roselli, believes that potentially “the techniques could one day be adapted for human use, with doctors perhaps being able to offer parents prenatal tests to determine the likely sexuality of offspring or a hormonal treatment to change the orientation of the child.”

Technological advances and the problematic consequences in their wake from unfettered access to abortion have thus far not budged pro-choice ideologues. Abortion on demand coupled with sex forecasting, for example, has resulted in a virtual gendercide amongst some cultural communities, but feminists will not back down from their monolithic political stance.

How then can those who support a woman’s unconditional right to kill her own healthy female fetus logically balk at a benign intervention that will optimize the chances of a living child having the sexual orientation preferred by the parents? Invoking state protection of a fetus’s “right to be gay” — as if the fetus itself had somehow chosen its own sexual identity — would vitiate the very principle upon which abortion rights depend, namely, that women’s wishes must always take precedence over fetal rights.

Kay also could have cited the examples of deaf women genetically modifying their embryos to ensure deaf children.

The point here is that once the woman’s sovereignty over her fetus is recognized, no one can complain when she chooses to make decisions that will offend others, in this case gays. But no no, I doubt this is the last we’ve heard of it.

I would say this is an example of the Edgar Syndrome (explained here), a phenomenon in which clashing orthodoxies of political correctness make its advocates squirm – a lot.

Comments

28 Responses to “Gay Rights, Women’s Rights, and Technology”

  1. The Canadian Blog Exchange on March 6th, 2007 1:49 am [#]

    Gay Rights, WomenÂ’s Rights, and Technology 20-01-07, 1:14 pm @ The Politic

  2. Grog on January 17th, 2007 10:29 am [#]

    There’s a couple of points I’d raise here:

    1) The research that Kay is citing is extremely preliminary at this time.

    2) It tends to reinforce the notion that sexual identity is much more complex in its origins than any singular causal explanation supports.

    3) Even if such a patch existed, one has to wonder just what the human price to be paid would be. For example, would it possibly increase the male tendency to violence? Or would it turn the person into an emotional eunuch?

    Just because one _can_ do something doesn’t mean that one _should_. Remember the awful effects of Thalydomide?

    (BTW – I am not decrying the research, nor do I believe it is at odds with the notion of Gay rights. The persistence of homosexuality in human history is such that I do not believe that a medical treatment will make it mystically go away – no matter how much some may wish for that to happen)

  3. Speller on January 17th, 2007 12:05 pm [#]

    Grog,
    I don’t think medical treatments based on hormone therapy or sexual orientation fall under the description of mystical.

    Medical science yes, human character yes, mystical no.

    The ethical considerations surrounding a debate on such usage of hormones will undoubtedly depend on whether homosexuality will continue to be touted as normal or newly recognized as a hormone imbalance.

    It remains to be seen IF hormone treatment can alter human sexual attraction. Perhaps there are psychological factors which are independent of hormones.

    I know there a certain political interests which are served by the existence of the Gay lobby. No doubt they would not like to lose one of their identity groups.

  4. Tom on January 17th, 2007 12:54 pm [#]

    Maybe they can cure religion.

  5. Speller on January 17th, 2007 1:48 pm [#]

    Why, Tom, I hadn’t heard it was sick.

  6. Scott from Winnipeg on January 17th, 2007 4:51 pm [#]

    Failure to perceive the sickness is one of the primary indicators of infection.

    I’ll pray for you.

  7. Nick D. on January 17th, 2007 5:02 pm [#]

    Genetically modifying embryos to prevent an inherited illness or a disabling condition is one thing, but customizing your child like a car is another. Homosexuality isn’t a disease or disorder and it’s immoral to impose your intangible ideals on an unborn human.

  8. Anonymous on January 17th, 2007 6:37 pm [#]

    There was NO research done by Oregon State University scientists to find a hormone treatment which “straightened” gay sheep. There was some research done by them to try and make straight animals gay, but this failed (Endocrine. 2006 Jun;29(3):501-11). The idea that they were involved in the “straightening” of sheep appears to originate in a press release by PETA six months ago, which has since been retracted.

  9. lrC on January 17th, 2007 6:54 pm [#]

    >Homosexuality isn’t a disease or disorder

    Whatever it might be, there’s no mystery about the structure of human reproductive systems and how they are intended to work. Helping the body to realize its intended function is not immoral.

  10. Scott from Winnipeg on January 17th, 2007 9:00 pm [#]

    Homosexuality is witnessed throughout the natural kingdom.

    Who are we to believe that we should “cure” it? How do we know with certainty that homosexuality doesn’t have a “function”?

  11. Tom on January 17th, 2007 10:01 pm [#]

    God says it’s evil. How dare you question God. May he smite you!

  12. Smiling Moose on January 17th, 2007 10:07 pm [#]

    Homosexuality is witnessed throughout the natural kingdom.

    So is cancer.

  13. Scott from Winnipeg on January 17th, 2007 11:16 pm [#]

    So, homosexuality in your view is a disease, or at the very least, akin to it.

  14. Tom Cerber on January 18th, 2007 4:36 pm [#]

    Scott: I don’t understand the attempt to justify human behavior on what occurs in the animal kingdom. Animals do lots of stuff – like eating of one’s young and the like – that aren’t exactly acceptable in human society. Philosophers are frequently skeptical about inferring an ought from an is, and this is from human examples. I think we should be even more skeptical from inferring an ought from an is when the example is from the animal world.

    If the move is to show what’s natural and what’s unnatural, you also need explain what’s natural for humans, as opposed to natural for specific types of animal species. You wouldn’t expect monkeys to behave like elephants, would you? Then why expect humans to behave like sheep, elephants, etc.?

  15. lrC on January 18th, 2007 4:54 pm [#]

    Everything which occurs in the physical universe is “natural”. Any malfunction of design is natural.

    Homosexuality might have a purpose. Here is one hypothesis: something in human female biology is programmed to subconsciously respond to observed population density increases by subtly changing hormonal balances during pregnancy, such that a small percentage of offspring are born with a disinclination to reproductive sex. (It’s a testable hypothesis.)

    Regardless, it’s still not immoral to intervene.

  16. Anonymous on January 18th, 2007 5:10 pm [#]

    Who cares?

  17. Scott from Winnipeg on January 18th, 2007 7:15 pm [#]

    That’s a good point Tom. My perspective is that homosexuality is observed in virtually every segment of the animal kingdom. In that respect, instances of homosexuality is something almost all animals have in common. Like breathing.

    Unlike gun ownership, it (would at least in this case) seem to be genetically preordained.

    Unlike other genetically transferable traits, such as certain diseases, homosexuality presents no health risks to either the person or other people.

    Should we design people to ensure nobody is born a dwarf, or with red hair, or too tall, or too physically unattractive?

    Are we not all designed in God’s image?

    I would agree IrC, your example could be a testable hypothesis. How you arrive at the conclusion that it’s not immoral to intervene, however, is beyond me.

  18. Grog on January 18th, 2007 8:30 pm [#]

    Homosexuality might have a purpose. Here is one hypothesis: something in human female biology is programmed to subconsciously respond to observed population density increases by subtly changing hormonal balances during pregnancy, such that a small percentage of offspring are born with a disinclination to reproductive sex. (It’s a testable hypothesis.)

    It’s not testable today. The simple reality is that we do not understand enough of the interactions between the environment in the womb and the developing fetus. Even more complex is the interaction between the endocrine system and DNA. Then add to the mix the complex process of personality development that happens as we grow up. At the very best, you MIGHT be able to establish apparent coincidence, but not causality.

    As for the morality of intervention, what if that intervention results in the children thus treated being prone to serious mental illness such as schizophrenia? What happens to your morality if that treatment creates someone who is unable to form emotional bonds at all because you have removed some basic aspect of their character, and left a void? Is intervention moral then?

  19. lrC on January 18th, 2007 10:47 pm [#]

    >How you arrive at the conclusion that it’s not immoral to intervene, however, is beyond me.

    I wrote that earlier. Humans are biologically designed to reproduce as male+female and should have instincts to match. Intervening to reinforce the default design is hardly immoral, any more than any other physiological intervention to reinforce the default design. If you can demonstrate that it causes problems, sure, revisit the issue – assuming we’ve overthrown “my body, my choice”.

    >It’s not testable today.

    Sure it is. The basic idea would be to start by measuring correlations of observed homosexual preference with population density. If the correlation is strong, it would be worth going on to develop tests for causality.

  20. Shane Edwards on January 19th, 2007 11:22 am [#]

    Not to be offensive, but the homosexuality I have seen that is prevalent in the animal kingdom is mostly the result of surges of hormones and small brains. The rut is something that humanity cannot fathom, yet is common to animals.

    There is a big difference between what humans consider homosexuality and animals operating on hormones and instinct mistaking one gender for another. Think about how male moose are known to attack trees, rocks etc. during the rut. Does that mean they have fetishes too?

    Also, while people may be able to think of examples of male animals mounting other males, have you ever seen a female animal attempt to mate with another female? If not, why not? Sex is not the same in the animal kingdom – it is not done for pleasure or to create or nurture feelings of love and connection. Hence, it is not comparable.

  21. Tom Cerber on January 19th, 2007 11:37 am [#]

    Shane: I suppose the human equivalent to the rut was the 1960s.

  22. Grog on January 19th, 2007 11:38 am [#]

    have you ever seen a female animal attempt to mate with another female?

    You might see some evidence of that in the primates. I suspect that for physiological reasons, female homosexuality requires a certain creativity in thought to express physically – a creativity that few in the “animal kingdom” would be able to express.

    However, your point that sex in the animal world is significantly different from human sexuality is important, and an observation that further calls into question the inference that what applies to sheep has even the vaguest applicability to humanity.

  23. Grog on January 19th, 2007 11:49 am [#]

    The basic idea would be to start by measuring correlations of observed homosexual preference with population density.

    I won’t even begin to go into all of the problems with that particular notion. Among other things, one finds that GLBT people concentrate in highly urban environments for a variety of complex social reasons. (e.g. anonymity and the ability to form a social group apart from the often judgmental eyes of the majority – something not necessarily feasible in smaller centers)

    Humans are biologically designed to reproduce as male+female and should have instincts to match. Intervening to reinforce the default design is hardly immoral, any more than any other physiological intervention to reinforce the default design.

    Er – waitasec that doesn’t add up entirely. There are so many examples of varying physiology and psychological makeup that I fail to see how you can make that argument. The work of John Money, along with more rational observation in recent decades, has raised the question of whether it is “moral” (or ethical) to intervene and impose a gender on intersex individuals in early life.

    The mere presence of intersex people is a strong clue (in my view) that variance between individuals is quite natural. I don’t see where a “moral” argument can be made to impose behaviours on someone based on some arbitrary binary model when humanity is not fully binary. Why wouldn’t we have individuals with mental makeup that differs from their physiology? And if that makeup doesn’t affect their basic ability to function, is it moral, or ethical, to meddle with it?

  24. Tom Cerber on January 19th, 2007 1:14 pm [#]

    Grog: Good points, though I think there’s a false inference at work in some of them.

    From your observation that “the mere presence of intersex people”, you seem to conclude that sex differences are a continuum instead of a real distinction – which is another way of saying that sex differences are not natural. You use the exception to the norm, intersex people or hermaphrodites, to imply there is no norm. A better approach, in my view, is to admit intersex people are the exception, precisely because nature does not work uniformly but rather, in Aristotle’s phrase, “for the most part.”

    Even though Aristotle is usually dismissed by biologists, I think his understanding provides a surer ground for the non-interventionist moral action you rightly advocate (your point about Money is bang on). If there are no natural kinds (the assumption I think you’re implicitly suggesting), then distinctions can ONLY come about by human intervention. Put another way, science and applied science (or technology) become fused when natural kinds are rejected as being real. That’s not the case when one accepts natural differences (but, as you know, one must also emphasize that natural kinds are beyond human intervention, and the exceptions to those kinds are, well, natural because nature herself makes exceptions).

  25. lrC on January 19th, 2007 2:12 pm [#]

    >I won’t even begin to go into all of the problems with that particular notion.

    We don’t have to, but I’m not claiming such studies would be a cakewalk.

    >And if that makeup doesn’t affect their basic ability to function, is it moral, or ethical, to meddle with it

    The question is really whether meddling is moral, immoral, or morally neutral; and, to examine the morality, we must consider at least these three factors: intentions, act (means), outcome (ends).

    It is possible parents could make a decision for wrongful intentions (ie. they dislike homosexuals), but we can not in practical terms second-guess someone’s stated intentions.

    It is possible the medical procedure/process could be immoral, although I think it unlikely. Medical issues usually are decided by intentions and outcomes.

    It is possible there could be an immoral outcome (ie. some form of harm to the child).

    There is also this question, which is part of the morality of the act (means): whether one person has the inherent right (power) to interfere with another person, and I suspect this is the point on which the debate hinges. The necessary assumptions are that we have two persons, with the rights of persons, who are moral equals with respect to the question.

    A brief consideration of the other factors: if there is no morally preferable sexuality – I propose there is not – and there is no other harm, then which way sexuality is influenced (the outcome) should have no bearing. The medical procedure (act) I will provisionally dismiss as morally neutral. The intentions of the parents will be assumed to be at least neutral if not good. So I return to the question of the means.

    And, having thought about it some more, I find I must change my opinion. My reasoning for doing so goes somewhat like this:

    1) The gestating child has the rights of a person.

    2) All persons are by default equals as moral agents, subject to the development of the moral sense of the person (eg. children have to learn to consider and take moral decisions, and some adults may never gain or may lose the capacity to do so).

    3) While parents have some powers over and duties toward their children (there are specific points at which parents and children are not equal moral agents), with respect to personal characteristics which are morally value neutral (sexuality) or not manifestly harmful (eg. defective organ development during gestation which could be corrected) parents have no moral authority to intervene in the biological or emotional destiny of their children. IOW, I see no self-evident reason to make an exception of moral equality on the question of sexuality.

    If it is the case that a gestating child is not a person, or that a child’s sexuality is a moral question over which parents have powers to decide for a child, then I am wrong.

  26. Grog on January 19th, 2007 6:17 pm [#]

    From your observation that “the mere presence of intersex people”, you seem to conclude that sex differences are a continuum instead of a real distinction – which is another way of saying that sex differences are not natural.

    No, I’m not saying that “sex differences are not natural” at all. In fact, what I’m driving at is that we all vary from each other considerably in our physical details and appearance – often far more than most would expect. Just look at faces, and we vary immensely – slight asymmetry in the positions of ears, differing brow ridges and goodness knows what else.

    My point being that just as we vary physically between individuals, that we vary considerably in our mental make-up as well. If someone happens to be homosexual, we simply recognize it as an unusual, but not abnormal state of being.

    And yes, I do argue that most attributes exist on a spectrum, with parts of the spectrum less prominent than others. It makes it a lot easier to account for variations in appearance and behaviour without creating phenomenally complex taxonomies. A good reason for this is that once we cease to treat otherwise benign situations as “abnormal”, we start discovering that they are more prevalent than originally thought. (Case in point, we are much more aware of intersex individuals today than 30 or more years in the past)

  27. Tom Cerber on January 19th, 2007 7:04 pm [#]

    Grog: I’m afraid you’ve dodged the question. To repeat, on what basis can one make distinctions? If you don’t want to consider sex, then perhaps species. I’m told that male humans share more DNA with male apes than they do with female humans. If that’s the case, shouldn’t your “continuum” model of sexes also include what we conventionally take as nonhumans? But contemporary biology takes it as a matter of faith that species are intelligible units of analysis. If we have contiuua instead of natural kinds, then doesn’t that make science impossible? Or only possible if we IMPOSE distinctions even if we call them continua?

    Even if I’m wrong about the DNA thing, I’m unsure your continuum model holds up. After all, a continuum is a continuum between two poles. One needs benchmarks to measure where one sits along a continuum. And these benchmarks need to be intelligible and therefore distinct from one another. If you don’t want to say that either end of the continuum is a natural kind, then you’re left saying that they’re IMPOSED by the scientist.

    Either way, your science seems based upon a scientific method that IMPOSES categories onto its subject matter. This is the very definition of technology, which is all about intervening into “natural” process (no longer taken as naturally-given). If this view of science is about intervention in its core, then it’s really too late to worry about selecting the sexual orientation of an embryo. All the terms of debate have been torqued toward that outcome.

  28. Grog on January 19th, 2007 10:13 pm [#]

    Tom,

    You are distinctly missing my point. Even where we think that there are “clear lines of delineation”, we keep finding exceptions, and significant exceptions.

    When we are discussing the moral and ethical implications of intervening to prevent those exceptions, we have a very careful balance to maintain. Not all biological exceptions are either unusual or necessarily problematic for the individuals affected.

    Let me bring forth the notion of “handedness”. The popular conception is that one is either left or right handed, and the two are generally mutually exclusive. Yet, just looking around my own social environs I know people who are right handed, some who are absolutely left handed, and still others who demonstrate varying degrees of ambidexterity.

    There are clear polarities there, as there are with gender. I do not dispute the polar ends of physical gender as male and female, but I also accept that there are many exceptions who fall in between due to a sizable variety of causes.

    I do not claim that a continuum applies to all things, but when it comes to the individual expression of attributes within a species, it is a rather handy tool for recognizing differentiation between individuals, without applying a potentially arbitrary “normal/abnormal” (good/bad) to a specific attribute. (I’m left handed, so to me, it’s “abnormal” to use the right hand for writing, eating, whatever – but that doesn’t mean that being right handed is either good or bad, does it? – and on the other hand, in a darker past, being left handed often resulted in getting burned at the stake – because it was deemed “abnormal”, possibly even “evil”)

    Now, returning to the original topic, I feel obliged to question whether or not it is moral and ethical to attempt to prevent a phenomenon that appears to be quite naturally occurring throughout our recorded history. It strikes me that the evidence suggests that when one puts aside social ostracization (which is a societal issue), there are no compelling reasons from either an ethical or moral perspective that would justify such an intervention.

  29. Tom Cerber on January 20th, 2007 10:34 am [#]

    Grog: What you say is sound. But two questions:
    1) why restrict the continuum view to within species, especially if males and females share more DNA with males and females of nearby species (perhaps suggesting a continuum exists across what we conventionally take as species)?

    2) To say that humans are distinguished “for the most part” between males and females doesn’t necessitate treating people with male and female attributes as “abnormal.” In fact, the so-called dark ages may have done a better job at finding a place for them in society because it understood people are not simply determined by their biological functions. Our own society’s insistence on treating people as sexual, whether it be hetero- or homo-, is more narrow.

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