So seeing as we’ve been doing it in developmental I thought I’d blog on the hugely controversial case of David Reimer. This study isn’t as well known by none psychology people as say Zimbardo and Milgram. However I would put it on the same kind of shock level as both of these studies.
First off what was the study? David (as he chose to later name himself) was born a boy but due to a botched circumcision spent the first 14 years of his life being brought up a girl. The man behind this idea? John Money. He was an expert in gender reassignments and confused at what to do with their son David’s parents asked him for help. His suggestion was, as said before, to fully castrate David and raise him as a girl. This provided an answer to the David’s parents but also a perfect opportunity for Money, the only catch was that David could never be told of his true sex. David was on one a set of identical twins. Money had created the opportunity to compare a set of twins of now different gender, he could now see if his theory was correct. David and his brother Brian were interviewed and followed throughout their childhood and for a while it seemed as if Money’s theory had been correct. However this was completely not the case. Brenda (David’s name when he was a girl) did not feel like a girl, she enjoyed to play games stereotypically that which a boy would play and hated to wear girly clothes. Money however did not want this and so set about to psychologically cement the idea that Brenda was a girl in her head. This led to some alleged behaviour that if happened is extremely unethical. Long story short. Brenda was pushed to the point where she threatened suicide if she ever had to see Money again and faced with this her parents decided to tell her the truth. This led to Brenda adopting her original gender, having reconstructive surgery and calling herself David.
Ok so ethically this study pretty much breaks every guideline in the book. The study itself started off entirely wrong. Money being the researcher and man behind the idea should have really had someone present that could monitor David to keep an eye on his emotional well-being. Psychologists have to protect participants in their studies and Money failed to this he was too involved with the theory he was trying to support to be able to maintain the objectivity needed to protect David. This is evidently shown in the allegations that David and his twin made that they were forced to act out sexual positions with each other as part of cementing the idea that David was a girl in his head. This is made even more important when the strain that such a thing put on the Reimer family is thought about; though it may not be the sole cause it could be argued that the experiment was a leading factor in the deaths of both David and his twin Brian. However some argue that because we discovered so much from the experiment about gender then the ends justify the means. The majority of what we learnt is that gender is definitely a case of nature and that gender cannot be nurtured. However what does this say about those that feel they have been born the wrong gender? The nature argument says if you are born a boy then that’s what you are but for those that are born boys but feel like they are a girl on the inside then where do they fall in the debate? And what can we take from Money’s study in relation to this? It could be argued that had the same experiment happened in today’s society then the results may have been different. Gender roles in the 60s were far more defined and separate from each other than they are now. David was forced not only into another gender but into the extreme of that gender, it may be that had he been brought up as a girl in the 20th century that he would never have felt so out of place. As in today’s society it is totally acceptable for girls to wear boyish clothes and to play with boys toys openly. He would just be labelled a tom boy and would have been readily accepted as such. However had the botched circumcision happened today hat with the advances in plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery there would have been other options for the Reimer family in comparison to when it actually happened when they had few options.
In conclusion no matter how ground breaking the findings of the David Reimer case the simple truth is that the study destroyed a family and ended in complete tragedy. This is a perfect case for me as to why the ethical guidelines are just so important, for me the end certainly do NOT justify the mean!