FGC at Cornell University

Cross posted

Careful – this may be TRIGGERING, and the links may be TRIGGERING.

Dr Dix P. Poppas of Cornell University Medical School has been performing genital surgery on little girls, and then doing follow-up work testing how much sensation the girls have (left). Here is the abstract for the article in which he reported the research: Journal of Urology: Nerve Sparing Ventral Clitoroplasty: Analysis of Clitoral Sensitivity and Viability: Volume 178, Issue 4, Supplement, Pages 1598-1601 (October 2007).

Here is the article on Bioethics Forum which reveals the story.

Bioethics Forum: Bad Vibrations

The Hastings Center, which hosts the Bioethics Forum, is well known for its work in bioethics. I’ve been reading Hastings Center reports for years, in connection with my work. It is a reliable source. The authors of the post are Alice Dreger and Ellen K Feder. Dreger has been criticised by intersex people, but that particular line of criticism does not seem to have a bearing on this issue.

Alice Dreger has a follow-up post at her Psychology Today blog: Can you hear us now?.

I’m appalled. How could this still be happening, in the 21st century? Dreger and Feder compare the doctor’s actions to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, because he conducted his research in plain view, but I think there are closer parallels with Herbert Green and his non-treatment of some women at National Women’s Hospital. In both cases, I see a doctor determined to prove that he is right, and to hell with the consequences for the people he is supposed to be trying to help.

The obvious question is how on earth did Dr Pappas get his work approved by Cornell’s Ethics Committee? The answer is that he didn’t.

How come the article says Poppas had IRB (ethics oversight) approval and we suggest he probably didn’t? Because what he has approval for is retrospective chart review, a harmless little look back at what he recorded in the charts as having happened to his patients. What he didn’t do was to get approval in advance for the “clitoral sensory testing” that he was writing down in the chart and then used to produce the systematic and generalized conclusions about his technique. This may sound like a technicality. It isn’t. If he had sought IRB approval for the “sensory testing,” the ethics staff might have sat up and asked him what the heck he thought he was doing to these girls, and they would have tried to make sure the parents were informed about the unknowns and risks, and the girls could have refused to participate.

Source: Alice Dreger’s blog post.

This doctor has been using “medical vibratory devices” on little girls and calling it research.

I feel ill.

Melissa has opened a discussion about it: Discussion Thread: Cornell University and FGC, and Melhoukia has been writing about it: This makes me sick: There are not enough content warnings in the world for what you are about to read. I first heard about the article through Feminist Philosophers: FGM at Cornell.

You can contact the Dean of the Cornell Medical School here: dean@med.cornell.edu


8 responses to “FGC at Cornell University

  1. Would it really be too much to ask for us as a species to leave our children’s genitals alone for say, the next 100 years?

  2. Ugh. Reading that comments thread over at Shakesville made me cry.

  3. Reading this post and the previous one was such a downer. Why the hell can’t people just be more respectful of other people?

  4. Well, I can’t fault you for not giving fair warning. My gag reflex was most definitely TRIGGERED, but was I supposed to be too sick and sad to get angry?

  5. I can’t stomach reading the links, your description’s enough. How the fuck could this be sanctioned by anyone? If only the Ethics Committee, which wouldn’t surprise me, I sincerely hope that when there’s an investigation, it includes the Committee members. From my limited exposure to these processes and Committees, they’re not nearly as rigourous as is often claimed.

  6. Opps, re-read this and realised that the issue of “approval” is not so clear. I wonder if you’ll update this story as it develops?

  7. 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://ow.ly/20wTY or sign up for our Twitter feed at http://twitter.com/aiclegal. You can also donate to support our work at http://aiclegal.org/we-need-your-support/