A Matter of Priorities

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The following quote is taken from a newspaper article of Thursday September 12, 2002, copyrighted by Health Media Ltd.:

“Researchers may soon be able to engineer the production of whole penises outside the body, offering a solution for men who have suffered penile injuries or children born with genital defects. Experiments involving rabbits have shown that replacing the corpora cavernosa – a tube of spongy tissue in the penis that swells during an erection – with cells grown from the host results in the production of tissue capable of generating a satisfactory erection, according to the New Scientist.”

My first thought was of the case of John Wayne Bobbit, the wife-beater turned porn star turned minister who was dismembered at the hands of his desperate wife. Before this event, did anyone consider the need for penis replacement? Penectomies are rare, most are performed by their owners, and no deaths have been reported. Statistically, this is an uncommon medical predicament, and I was surprised to learn of such aggressive research on this issue.

The anatomy of the penis is complicated and would require generously-funded research to learn to build one artificially. Apparently, this money was available. Regardless of my political interest in this issue, I am delighted to learn of the accomplishment. It will certainly make easier the rocky path of those born with ambiguous genitals, female to male transsexuals, and those suffering genital accidents. Though cancer of the penis is rare, transplants would afford patients another viable choice in their treatment. Perhaps in time, science can advance the process to help men with erectile dysfunction caused by vascular diseases such as diabetes and arteriosclerosis.

I cannot help but wonder, though, how it is that we’ve figured out how to reproduce the complex structures of the penis, requiring even hydraulics, before we discovered a way to replace women’s breasts, made up mostly of fat cells. Breast cancer is a major killer of women. Even survivors tell stories of the distress surrounding treatment and the anguish of living (and dying) with a painful and debilitating disease affecting so private (and sexual) a body part. Why have we not become more expert in breast reconstruction? Why are we not hearing about breast tissue being generated in labs? What does this have to say about our priorities? Does the fog of misogyny still envelope us?

Please don’t get me wrong. I applaud any advances that enable people to live happy, healthy lives. I think it is wonderful that organ regeneration is becoming a reality. And of course I rejoice that we are aggressively pursuing research into factors affecting our sexuality. Still, I wish the playing field were a bit more level, affording equal access and importance to all of us, regardless of age, gender, race, orientation, and/or status. I do not pen this article to pit any one ‘side’ against another, but to encourage us to keep in mind the importance of including everyone in our march toward better health. Here’s to ALL of us!

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