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One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal

11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674018259
ISBN-10: 0674018257
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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 31, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674018257
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674018259
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #333,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As a descendent of Eng Bunker (1/2 of the Original Siamese Twins), I was thrilled to read this well thought out and compassionate book. I would highly recommend this book to anyone striving to understand the issues that are faced with conjoinment and "singletons" need for privacy and individuality. An important book that helps "de-freak" the humans that are born with unique anatomy. Thank you!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Aurora Grace on September 20, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dreger hit the trifecta here. Her book was informative, thought-provoking, and engaging. The pages are filled with anecdotes of the lives of conjoined twins throughout history, the decisions they've made and the lifestyles they've lived.

It offers up some fascinating questions of morality. My favorites were these three:
(1) Why do many people consider it wrong to exploit conjoined twins by putting them on display for their unusual bodies? Isn't that exactly what we do in the modeling industry?
(2) Why is there this pervasive theory that conjoined twins should offer up their bodies for the advancement of medicine? Doctors usually don't offer proper monetary compensation to twins or their families for access to the corpses of twins or for hordes of medical students to watch separation surgeries take place. Isn't this sense of entitlement, in a sense, worse than offering payment?
(3) Under what circumstances would it be morally acceptable to sacrifice one twin for the sake of the other twin's well-being?

It examines the idea of disability versus differences, and whether performing normalizing surgery is really a healthier course of action than becoming more adaptive and accommodating to one another's differences as a society.

This book was well-researched, and I kept telling my boyfriend about the stuff I was reading in the book, asking his opinion on philosophical questions and saying "Hey, did you know that ...?" I highly recommend this book.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Peter McCluskey on June 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book raises questions about peoples' reactions to conjoined twins that may have important implications for many other unusual traits. It eloquently questions common assumptions about the desire to seem normal. It has led me to wonder about the extent to which healthcare is used to make people more normal at the cost of making them less healthy.

The book presents strong evidence that conjoined twins who remain conjoined are at least as well off as those who are separated, and some evidence that separations reduce the twins' life expectancy, possibly by a significant amount.

Remarkably, of the twins who remained conjoined to adulthood, only one pair requested separation (they didn't survive it), and among those whose refused separation are a number whose twin had just died (which meant that separation appeared to offer the only chance for the remaining twin to survive).

This doesn't mean conjoined twins are better off that way (those who have been separated seem equally satisfied with their status), but it strongly suggests that decisions to perform separations are motivated by something other than concern over the twins wellbeing. And it suggests that people who claim things like "The proposed operation would give these children's bodies the integrity that nature denied them" are imposing their values on others in ways which would be considered unacceptable if the victims had a little political power.

The book reports a fair number of statements by doctors (and occasionally parents) which suggest they consider a normal appearance worth risking health to achieve. The book also theorizes that having a normal child is an important enough part of parents' identity to override their interest in their children's' wellbeing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By HTC on December 26, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book. Though slightly outdated, (for example, conjoined twins Abby and Brittany Hensel are no longer children... they're twenty-somethings with a reality show and an elementary school teaching job), the book is still fascinating and relevant. I was taken by comparisons between society's common over-enthusiasm for separating conjoined twins (often creating two disabled or even dead individuals in separate bodies instead of two often otherwise healthy individuals in one body) and society's misguided need to "fix" the genitals of babies born with unusual genitalia (leading to adults who often have lower sexual feeling and who are sometimes made into a gender that feels wrong...) I hope the author updates this book to account for some of the stories of conjoined and separated twins featured on tlc and the former discovery channel in recent years...
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Shirley Dodds on March 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book was thought provoking. It made me think about what 'normal' is. From research that the author had done, it seems that a very high proportion of conjoined twins left conjoined are quite happy with their bodies. It seems that it is society that demands they are changed to a more normal appearance, despite horrible medical problems that will result from the operations. The book philophosises more about this than discusses actual cases. However there were some very interesting recent cases discussed, such as the sacrifice of one conjoined twin to save the other, and a case where the doctors took the parents of a pair of conjoined twins to court so the separation could go ahead.
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