Scientists Question `Gay Gene' Research

By Price, Joyce | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 2, 1997 | Go to article overview

Scientists Question `Gay Gene' Research


Price, Joyce, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


A new report in a respected medical bioethics journal raises concerns about the science, ethics and goals of genetic research into sexual orientation.

"We have serious ethical concerns about general research on sexual orientation," the authors of the article in the Hastings Center Report conclude. "Furthermore, we question whether those who research sexual orientation can ever conduct their work in a value-neutral manner."

Their report is very sympathetic to the "societal discrimination suffered" by homosexuals, and it condemns "homophobia," which it calls widespread.

Nevertheless, the authors challenge the science involved in some key research studies that have suggested a genetic basis for homosexuality - including those of Dean H. Hamer of the National Cancer Institute - and they argue that homosexuals will not benefit from such research.

Authors of the report are Dr. William Byne, a psychiatrist and lecturer in brain sciences and behavior courses at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York; Udo Schuklenk, a lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire's Centre for Professional Ethics in England; Edward Stein, who teaches philosophy and lesbian and gay studies at Yale University; and Jacinta Kerin, a medical ethicist on the faculty of Monash University in Australia.

Numerous conservatives have attacked the validity of the so-called "gay gene" research by Mr. Hamer and others. Such critics charge that homosexuality is a "lifestyle" and a sexual "preference" that can be changed with therapy.

But the report in the magazine of the Hastings Center - a nonprofit organization in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., that carries out educational and research programs on ethical issues in medicine - is one of the first by experts who state categorically they believe homosexuality is "normal" and should be left alone.

The report by Mr. Schuklenk, the study's lead author, and his colleagues devotes considerable attention to a widely publicized genetic linkage study by Mr. Hamer and his group at NCI. The Hamer study - published in 1993 in the journal Science - found a connection between male homosexuality and a region of the X chromosome, which is transmitted maternally.

"There are several problems with Hamer's study," Mr. Schuklenk wrote. "First, a Canadian research team has been unable to duplicate the findings using a comparable experimental design. Second, Hamer confined his research to the X-chromosome on the basis of family interviews, which seems to reveal a disproportionately high number of male homosexuals on the mothers' side of the family."

The authors of the study in the Hastings Report note that "women might be more likely to know details of family medical history, rendering these interviews less than objective in terms of directing experimental design. …

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