Release: 15 January 1998
New England Journal of Medicine reports on "true
The January 15 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine carries
a report of an infant produced by in vitro fertilization who was discovered
to have one ovary and one testis. Genetic investigation revealed the child
to have two cell lines, one 46 XX (female-typical) and one 46 XY (male-typical).
The presence in one individual of cells derived from different conceptuses
is called "chimerism,"
after the mythical Greek monster. Because IVF implantations have a
low success rate, it is common practice to implant multiple conceptuses
to increase the likelihood of pregnancy; in this case two conceptuses amalgamated
to form a single individual.
The presence of both ovarian and testicular tissue results in the child
being labeled a "true hermaphrodite," a term which gives the false impression
that the child is somehow more hermaphroditic than others. In fact, "true
hermaphrodites" are likely to have less anatomic ambiguity than individuals
labeled "pseudo-hermaphrodite." As Dr. Alice Dreger discusses in her book,
"Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex," due out from Harvard
University Press in
April, the distinction between "true" and "pseudo" was introduced by
Victorian medical men as a sort of definitional legerdemain with which
to dismiss the disturbing tendency of human bodies to contradict their
conviction that each body must have a "true sex."
Neither chimerism nor intersexuality are unusual enough to have warranted
publication of a case report in a medical journal, were it not for the
circumstance that this birth is the result of IVF.
The freakishness implied by the use of medical labels derived from Greek
mythology, however, produces public interest. The case report was presented
in a Washington Post article, and the
story inspired the DJ of a Boston radio program was inspired to tease
calling him a hermaphrodite, saying that he engaged in coitus with
himself, and comparing intersexuals to worms.
Report of Boy With Mixed Anatomy Adds to
Scrutiny of In Vitro Fertilization
by Rick Weiss
Thursday, January 15, 1998; Page A04
Strain, Lisa, John C.S. Dean, Mark P.R. Hamilton, and David T. Bonthron.
1998. A true hermaphrodite chimera resulting from embryo amalgamation after
in vitro fertilization. New England Journal of Medicine 338 (3):166-169.