. . .In Perspective
January 28, 1998

Sex: What We Make of It

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Human Genetics, Medicine, and Pediatrics, Allegheny University of the Health Sciences, 320 E North Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15212 (Dr Pyeritz).


Edited by Annette Flanagin, RN, MA, Associate Senior Editor.

JAMA. 1998;279(4):269. doi:10.1001/jama.279.4.269

What a difference a century makes! "Shenck's Theory of Sex Determination" provides ample documentation of how far one small aspect of biomedicine and the world's perspectives of it have evolved in 100 years. The best editorials and essays presage scientific insights; the one reprinted on the preceding page fails to anticipate any important advances in reproduction or genetics. However, the editorial does provide a history lesson that is worth noting: what we today consider blatant sexism, racism, paternalism, and anti-Semitism represented mainstream thinking in 1898. Given the events of the mid-20th century, the casual acceptance of negative eugenics—sterilizing "unfit" females—particularly grates. The editorialist does nothing to elevate his stature in our eyes today by justifying sterilization, in part, on the grounds that physicians would benefit financially from the procedure.

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