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Alice Dreger

  • American scientist

Alice Domurat Dreger () is a historian, bioethicist, author, and former professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois.Dreger engages in academic work and activism in support of individuals born with atypical sex characteristics (intersex or disorders of sex development) and individuals born as conjoined twins. She challenges the perception that those with physical differences are somehow "broken" and need to be "fixed".


Conjoined twins simply may not need sex-romance partners as much as the rest of us do. Throughout time and space, they have described their condition as something like being attached to a soul mate.




Instead of constantly enhancing the norm - forever upping the ante of the 'normal' with new technologies - we should work on enhancing the concept of normal by broadening appreciation of anatomical variation.




My mother has told so many times the unbelievable story of how, as a toddler, I would demand raw onions and eat them like apples, I think that, at this juncture, it is a story that just has to be believed.




Want to be a well-paid bioethicist, with one, two, or even three university appointments? Just get yourself a two-piece navy polyester suit and follow these three simple rules: (1) Never name names. (2) Screw principles; just follow procedures. (3) Bury the money.




A hospital may spend several million dollars separating a pair of conjoined twins even though that separation is likely to leave them worse off.




As a kid, I did some running but especially loved biking and swimming. I grew up on Long Island, and our mom took us all the time to the ocean, so I grew up doing open-water swimming in the Atlantic.




Purposefully exposing young people to increased risks of major brain problems - even death - for sport is surely even more ethically complicated than sending young people into this same neurological danger zone as soldiers.




I am led by what I find to be true, not what I find to be popular.




Perhaps it is because I'm a writer trained in history that I've always assumed I would make mistakes in my drafts. Historians know how faulty human memory can be.




Doctors are human animals. They want to be loved, they are tribal, they instinctually favor stories over scientific evidence, they make mistakes, and even small gifts make them susceptible to being biased. If we took doctors seriously as human animals, we might hurt them - and they might hurt us - a lot less.




We don't really know where human sexual orientations come from yet. What we do know is that the evidence we have that sexual orientation includes an innate component doesn't seem to point to the existence of simple 'gay genes' and 'straight genes.'




Ok, here goes: I'm going to see how many people I can offend by suggesting that maybe many little gay boys, like many little girls, are made up of sugar and spice and everything nice.




The funny thing is, when I ask people with dark skin if they would change their color, they tell me no, and when I ask women if they would rather be men, they tell me no, and I get the same response when I ask people with unusual anatomies if they would take a magic pill to erase their unusual features.




Regardless of the cultural system, social pressure to appear straight seems to be fairly intense cross-culturally. Indeed, one is inclined to wonder, if being straight is just natural, why does it require quite so much policing?




Doctors and scientists, being part of that two-sex culture, have done everything they can to try to force people who are in-between into one of the two clear types. Intersex people themselves have also generally wanted to fit into one of the two clear categories; most are not interested in being in a 'third' type.




The safety argument against steroids may be a good one, but let's be honest. It isn't the one that motivates most officials and fans to frown on steroids. Steroid use does not just seem risky or unnatural, it seems to disrupt the level playing field.




Having a child is not like taking a spouse; there is no mutual agreement entered into. It is up the parent to make the commitment.




Being gay is not a terrible, tragic disease that requires prevention or treatment chosen for you by your parents.




If we have a situation where a man is particularly graceful in a sport that rewards grace - say, for example, figure skating - why is it that we don't say to the man, 'Well, you're too feminine to compete?'... I don't understand why we don't find it offensive also to say to a women who's very strong, 'You're too masculine to compete.'




I don't know what has caused this reawakening in academia. Obama? The GOP's assaults on science and on patients? Jon Stewart? I'm not at all sure. I just know I don't feel nearly as alone in academia as I used to. I'm feeling increasingly surrounded by fellow Ph.D.'s and by M.D.'s who seem to be taking a lot of things personally.




After I dropped out of college at the age of 19, I became a mortgage broker, and when I went back to school I thought about going into real estate law. I probably would have made a lot more money and died of boredom by now.




According to my mother, there pretty much wasn't anything I wouldn't eat as a child. Not just try, but eat. I was even inclined to dig into stuff about which she expressed open disgust - lobster and other shellfish, and cheap Chinese food with pepper so hot it made your gums feel like a medieval dentist had been at them.




You want a child who never makes you anything but proud? Please. Don't bother taking on parenthood if you can't handle the fact that sometimes your child's identity won't be what you would have chosen. And if you want to prevent a child from ever suffering? Well, then don't have a child. No one is born into the world never to suffer.




Many medical students, like most American patients, confuse science and technology. They think that what it means to be a scientific doctor is to bring to bear the maximum amount of technology on any given patient. And this makes them dangerous.




We now know that sex is complicated enough that we have to admit nature doesn't draw the line for us between male and female, or between male and intersex and female and intersex; we actually draw that line on nature.




A democratic medical establishment does not alter people's bodies to fit regressive social norms; it advocates for patients by demanding the social body get its act together.




Surely, sport is not fundamentally about the safety of athletes. If it were, we'd probably have to ban professional football, right after boxing.




When I ask my medical students to describe their image of a woman who elects to birth with a midwife rather than with an obstetrician, they generally describe a woman who wears long cotton skirts, braids her hair, eats only organic vegan food, does yoga, and maybe drives a VW microbus.




After I dropped out of college at the age of 19, I became a mortgage broker, and when I went back to school I thought about going into real estate law.




Using medicine in the service of cosmesis is generally bad for patients, bad for doctors, and bad for democracy. The only exceptions are when we know the intervention will actually reduce suffering, as with a primary cleft lip repair.




Being a parent of a boy who wants to wear sparkles and grow his hair long - especially when you don't know where it's all going to go - it's hard stuff. I'm not being politically incorrect in acknowledging that, am I?




I could make a martyrly claim to having been the victim of childhood enslavement when I report that I started regularly cooking with my mother at a hot stove when I was five. But the truth is I wanted to cook. Cooking meant being near food.




What we should care about is health - reduction of morbidity and mortality. Too often, we instead pay attention to whether something is 'normal.' A hospital may spend several million dollars separating a pair of conjoined twins, even though that separation is likely to leave them worse off.




I actually completely suck at being a bioethicist. What I do is history of medicine and patient advocacy. Patient advocacy is actually the opposite of bioethics, because bioethicists are the people who increasingly set up and justify the systems we patient advocates have to fight.




Doctors are human animals. They want to be loved, they are tribal, they instinctually favor stories over scientific evidence, they make mistakes, and even small gifts make them susceptible to being biased.




You can't go into new life experiences without the understanding that yeah, you may fail, but knowing you might fail can't stop you from trying.



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