From Publishers Weekly
Analyzing case studies past and present, Dormurat Dreger, an associate professor of science and technology at Michigan State, questions assumptions about anatomical norms in a solemn and politically passionate exploration of separation surgery on conjoined twins. Providing historical and contemporary evidence that most adult conjoined twins do not desire to be separated, and that many surgeries are carried out on children too young to object, Dormurat Dreger voices distaste for Americans' failure to tolerate anatomical difference and instead fetishize individualism at all cost. Making ample use of her previous study of hermaphrodites, she likens separation surgery to reconstructive surgery on the sexually ambiguous genitalia of "intersex" children. Both types of surgery, she argues, share the dubious social rather than strictly medical goal of making such children appear more "normal." Aided by statistics that bespeak a high mortality rate, Dormurat Dreger mines cases of separation surgery around the world for the rational and ethical flaws in medical decision making, building a strong case against intervention. At the heart of her moral questioning is suspicion of the institutions involved, and of parents who may be motivated more by ill-conceived feelings about normality than by rational consideration for the children's futures. This pithily provocative critique of medical paternalism and society's blind spots vis-à-vis anatomical standards provides a valuable opportunity to ponder the high-profile surgeries on conjoined twins that most of us know only through the news headlines we habitually fail to question. 13 illus.
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Part history of medicine, part consciousness-raising freak show, this surprisingly entertaining book examines cultural reactions to conjoined twins and other anatomical anomalies. Dreger argues that Victorians were more appreciative than moderns of people born "different," viewing them as "authorities on a unique and strangely attractive experience." Nowadays, pediatric surgeons so prize normalcy that they perform sexual surgery on infants without concern for adult function; they may also withhold information from parents, and even override their consent, when dealing with birth defects. Dreger sometimes strays into lit-crit goofiness—for her, conjoined twins call to mind every "crazy-in-love" song you've ever heard—but her examples persuasively make the case that the anatomically different feel normal to themselves.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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