E.J. Posted January 1, 2007 Report Share Posted January 1, 2007 Science told: hands off gay sheep Isabel Oakeshott and Chris Gourlay Experiments that claim to ?cure? homosexual rams spark anger LINK SCIENTISTS are conducting experiments to change the sexuality of ?gay? sheep in a programme that critics fear could pave the way for breeding out homosexuality in humans. The technique being developed by American researchers adjusts the hormonal balance in the brains of homosexual rams so that they are more inclined to mate with ewes. It raises the prospect that pregnant women could one day be offered a treatment to reduce or eliminate the chance that their offspring will be homosexual. Experts say that, in theory, the ?straightening? procedure on humans could be as simple as a hormone supplement for mothers-to-be, worn on the skin like an anti-smoking nicotine patch. The research, at Oregon State University in the city of Corvallis and at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, has caused an outcry. Martina Navratilova, the lesbian tennis player who won Wimbledon nine times, and scientists and gay rights campaigners in Britain have called for the project to be abandoned. Navratilova defended the ?right? of sheep to be gay. She said: ?How can it be that in the year 2006 a major university would host such homophobic and cruel experiments?? She said gay men and lesbians would be ?deeply offended? by the social implications of the tests. But the researchers argue that the work is valid, shedding light on the ?broad question? of what determines sexual orientation. They insist the work is not aimed at ?curing? homosexuality. Approximately one ram in 10 prefers to mount other rams rather than mate with ewes, reducing its value to a farmer. Initially, the publicly funded project aimed to improve the productivity of herds. The scientists have been able to pinpoint the mechanisms influencing the desires of ?male-oriented? rams by studying their brains. The animals? skulls are cut open and electronic sensors are attached to their brains. By varying the hormone levels, mainly by injecting hormones into the brain, they have had ?considerable success? in altering the rams? sexuality, with some previously gay animals becoming attracted to ewes. Professor Charles Roselli, the Health and Science University biologist leading the research, defended the project. He said: ?In general, sexuality has been under-studied because of political concerns. People don?t want science looking into what determines sexuality. ?It?s a touchy issue. In fact, several studies have shown that people who believe homosexuality is biologically based are less homophobic than people who think that this orientation is acquired.? The research is being peer-reviewed by a panel of scientists in America, demonstrating that it is being taken seriously by the academic community. Potentially, the techniques could one day be adapted for human use, with doctors perhaps being able to offer parents pre-natal tests to determine the likely sexuality of offspring or a hormonal treatment to change the orientation of a child. Roselli has said he would be ?uncomfortable? about parents choosing sexuality, but argues that it is up to policy makers to legislate on questions of ethics. Michael Bailey, a neurology professor at Northwestern University near Chicago, said: ?Allowing parents to select their children?s sexual orientation would further a parent?s freedom to raise the sort of children they want to raise.? Critics fear the findings could be abused. Udo Schuklenk, Professor of Bioethics at Glasgow Caledonian University, who has written to the researchers pressing them to stop, said: ?I don?t believe the motives of the study are homophobic, but their work brings the terrible possibility of exploitation by homophobic societies. Imagine this technology in the hands of Iran, for example. ?It is typical of the US to ignore the global context in which this is taking place.? Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner, said: ?These experiments echo Nazi research in the early 1940s which aimed at eradicating homosexuality. They stink of eugenics. There is a danger that extreme homophobic regimes may try to use these experimental results to change the orientation of gay people.? He said that the techniques being developed in sheep could in future allow parents to ?play God?. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the pressure group, condemned the study as ?a needless slaughter of animals, an affront to human dignity and a colossal waste of precious research funds?. The tests on gay sheep are the latest in a long line of experiments seeking to alter the sexuality of humans and animals. G?nther Dorner, a scientist in the former East Berlin, carried out hormone-altering tests on rodents in the 1960s in the hope of finding a way to eradicate homosexuality. In 2002, Simon LeVay, an American neurologist, claimed to have discovered that homosexual and heterosexual men had physically different brains. His tests on the corpses of gay men who had died of Aids were widely criticised. Copyright 2007 Times Newspapers Ltd. Quote Link to comment
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