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Sexual Reassignment

David Reimer was a male identical twin born in Canada in 1965. At six months, there were concerns about how he urinated and he was referred for circumcision at eight months. A urologist used cauterization and burned his penis beyond surgical repair. His parents, concerned about his future happiness and sexual function, brought him to see John Money, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University. Money was a proponent of the theory of gender neutrality, which states that gender identity develops as a result of social learning and could be changed with behavioral intervention. He persuaded the parents that sexual reassignment surgery would be in David’s best interest. At 22 months, David had his testes removed and was renamed Brenda. Money continued to provide psychological support, consulting to the family for the next ten years. The situation was considered a particularly valid test case of the theory of Gender Neutrality as David’s identical twin brother could serve as the control, and David had no abnormality of prenatal or infant sexual differentiation. Money instructed the children to engage in “sexual rehearsal play.” He deemed the intervention a success and used it as the basis to support other sexual reassignment in other cases. The family discontinued seeing Money when he wanted “Brenda” to have a vagina constructed. According to Reimer’s account, he never identified as a girl. He was bullied by peers and never “felt female.” By 13, he was suicidal. In 1980, his parents told him the truth about his gender reassignment. At 14, Reimer decided to assume a male gender identity, calling himself David. He underwent treatment to reverse the reassignment. He went on to marry a woman, but at age 38, committed suicide.

Discuss the following questions:

  • Do the benefits of this study outweigh the ethical concerns?
  • How could this study/case have been conducted in a more ethical manner?

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