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Brookfield, Wisconsin: India’s disappearing daughters - Child sex ratios continue to plummet all over the country

Paul F. Desroches 3722 Joseph Street Brookfield, WI 53005

Exactly a month ago, Dr Mitu Khurana lost a 11-year-old court battle. This gutsy mother of twin daughters was the first woman in India to file a case under the Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act — the great legal tool which is supposed to protect the lives of our unborn daughters. Her lengthy battle came to end in just five minutes when the Supreme Court dismissed it on a technicality.

Dr Khurana’s case is a well documented one and has been covered quite extensively by the Indian and foreign press. She is a doctor, married into a family of doctors, and more importantly — a strong and determined woman who never gave up. She had said that in 2005 when she was under heavy sedation, her in-laws had got an illegal sex determination test done in a high-end clinic in Jaipur. She had proof that this was an unregistered clinic and that the crucial Form F which records the woman’s consent to have an ultrasound had gone missing… all punishable offences under the PCPNDT Act.

And yet she lost.

Meanwhile in other parts of the country, sonographers or ultrasound specialists who do the very important task of scanning pregnant women to check fetal health, went on a one day strike in protest against what they called the draconian PCPNDT Act. They wanted the Act amended because they said they were being persecuted for trivial reasons like a clerical error.

“Look at the piles of paperwork to be done for every single scan,” said an exasperated sonologist at a conference on sex selective abortion. “If I slip on even a single one, I can get arrested and my ultrasound machine can be locked. I came into this field because I was interested in fetal health. Now I regret it. This was once the most popular specialisation for gynaecologists. Now the youngsters are afraid to get into this field.”

At the same time Sabu George who has spent several decades researching and fighting against this form of gender discrimination pointed out to a newspaper that the child sex ratio has dropped drastically in a state like Karnataka, which was once considered comparatively “safe”. This he said is mainly because of poor implementation of the law against sex selective abortion. Today the child sex ratio in Karnataka is 943 per 1,000 males as compared to 973 in the 2001 census. And in thriving Bengaluru, the capital city the ratio is a pathetic 916 to 1,000.

But there are also districts in Karnataka where there are more girls than boys in the 0-6 age group. Udupi with 1,094 girls to 1,000 boys tops the list. Others included in this star list are Dakshina Kannada (1,020), Kodagu (1,019), Hassan (1,010) Chickamagaluru (1,008) and Raichur (1,000). So, does this mean that the PCPNDT Act is enforced better in these districts, or is there something else? Something more intangible? A different mindset? A matrilineal tradition? No dowry?

So where does the problem lie?

By now it is a well-established fact that our daughters are disappearing not from the families of the poor and uneducated but from educated middle and upper middle class families who have access to illegal sex selection and abortion clinics. We all also know that the main culprit is our patriarchal society which has brainwashed several generations of families into believing women are commodities of trade in a marriage and a girl’s life is better snuffed out before she is born, lest she grow into an expensive and unaffordable member of the family.

I have been investigating female infanticide and sex selective abortion for over 20 years now. In 2005, I started researching my book Disappearing Daughters, on the alarming consequences of sex selective abortion. At that time, the worst hit states were Punjab, Haryana, and Gujarat. The PCPNDT Act was already in force and these states had “save the girl child” programmes, yet girls were disappearing by the thousands. Today the virus has spread all over India as these maps indicate.

Studies now indicate that Northeastern states like Tripura and Nagaland, and hitherto relatively unaffected states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have also got plunging child sex ratios.

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The problem is that, like in a sinking ship, we don’t know how to stop the downward descent. Every time we plug one leak another one springs up.

Once upon a time the desire to have a male child was just that… a desire, an aspiration, maybe, or even a dream or a hope. Advances in medical technology have made it possible to turn all those dreams into reality.

First it was amniocentesis, then the ultrasound and now the genetic blood test and embryo selection. Every new advance was actually meant to ensure the safety of the child in the womb irrespective of its gender. But these benign diagnostic tools have actually turned into killer weapons in the hands of a patriarchal society.

Gender selective destruction is not new to our society. Gruesome forms of female infanticide have existed in pockets of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and even Tamil Nadu for a long time. As prenatal gender selection is possible now at a very early stage the female fetus is more endangered than ever.

Every gynaecologist I know has any number of stories of people in high places who tried to pressurise him or her into revealing the sex of the unborn child. I know women who have swallowed all sorts of herbal medicines to ensure the unborn foetus is male and ended up having a deformed child instead. I have been threatened by the doctor wife of an MP because I was investigating charges of sex selection against her. I have talked to weeping women who told me how they were pressured by their families into destroying their unborn daughters.

Disappearing Daughters came out in 2007 and I thought the situation was dire then. If anything, it has become much worse 10 years down the line. Crimes against women have increased in states like Haryana where there is a huge deficit of young women. Child sex ratios continue to plummet all over the country.

One thing is for sure. The change in thinking has to come from the very basic social unit, which is the family. As long as we have a ‘son hungry’ society, unscrupulous medical practitioners as well as quacks will continue to exploit the situation.

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Birmingham, Alabama: Sexual Behavior in Dutch and Belgian Children as Observed by Their Mothers

Reginald T. Smith 97 Retreat Avenue Birmingham, AL 35203

Mothers' observations (N = 670) of child sexual behavior have been collected using an adapted version of the Child Sexual Behavior Inventory as developed by Friedrich et al. (1991). The ages of the boys (N = 351) and girls (N = 319) observed range from 0 to 11 years. The results show that there is a lot of variance in the frequency with which specific sexual behaviors are observed. The occurrence of specific behaviors varies with age. While some behaviors are observed more frequently as the child gets older, others are observed less frequently. Boys and girls only differ in a few behaviors. The finding that the behavioral items form an internally consistent scale suggests that there is a general tendency to show sexually related behaviors, which is more or less strongly present in children, which might be a precursor of differential levels of sexual desires in adults.

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Providence, Rhode Island: What is it like to be buried alive?

Keith L. Blalock 2353 Myra Street Providence, RI 02908

Michelina Lewandowska transfixed Leeds crown court this week as she described clawing her way through 10cm or more of soil after allegedly being buried alive in a cardboard box. Little wonder: dread of premature or live burial is, despite its rarity, one of our most potent fears, well amplified by Edgar Allan Poe in stories such as The Premature Burial and The Fall of the House of Usher, and widespread enough to have its own medical name, taphe- (or tapho-) phobia.

According to Jan Bondeson's Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear, live burial was long used as a particularly cruel method of execution: in medieval Italy, murderers who refused to repent were buried alive, a practice referred to in Dante's Inferno. Women convicted of murdering their husbands suffered the same fate – known as "the pit" – in 17th-century Russia, and photos exist of Chinese civilians being buried alive by Japanese soldiers during the Nanking Massacre.

But it is the fear of being buried having been wrongly pronounced dead that alarms us most. Until little more than 100 years ago, medical science meant it was not an altogether irrational concern: among methods advocated for diagnosing death in the 18th century were tickling with a feather quill, whipping with nettles, mouthwashing with urine and sticking needles under the toenails. The wealthy paid their physicians to slit their throats or pierce their hearts before burial.

Horror stories abounded: a pregnant women who gave birth 6ft underground; coffins opened to find corpses with fingertips ravaged by hours of desperate scratching; an aristocratic lady woken in her tomb by a grave-robber trying to chop her hand off for her rings. In 1905, the social reformer William Tebb documented 219 cases of near live burial, and 149 actual cases (horrified, Tebb founded the London Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial and specified before his own death in 1917 that "unmistakable evidence of decomposition" be visible before he was cremated).

To allay people's fears, Victorian inventors in Britain and elsewhere patented coffins with periscope-like breathing tubes and breakable glass panels linked to bells and whistles above ground, and automatic alarm mechanisms that would detect chest movement. And even today, near-mistakes do happen: only last year, a 76-year-old Polish beekeeper, Josef Guzy, certified dead following a heart attack, narrowly escaped being buried alive when a faint pulse was spotted as his coffin was being sealed. Be warned.

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King Of Prussia, Pennsylvania: Effects of Long-term Treatment of Butea superba on Sperm Motility and Concentration

Eddie M. Kenny 4619 Tree Top Lane King Of Prussia, PA 19406

Butea superba has been used to enhance sexual performance in men with unknown long-term effects on spermatozoa. This study aimed to investigate effects of chronic treatment of B. superba on sperm motility and concentration in rats and mice in correlation with testicular damage. Adult male rats and mice were orally administered distilled water or B. superba alcoholic extract (0.01, 0.1 or 1.0 mg/kg BW/day) for 6 months. At the end of the treatment the animals were sacrificed and the spermatozoa recovered from the distal cauda epididymis were analyzed for sperm concentration and motility in vitro. The testes were processed for histological examination. The results show that long-term treatment with B. superba extract significantly increased the sperm concentration and delayed the decreased motility with time. None of signs of sperm anomalies and testicular damages were observed. This suggests that chronic use of B. superba increases the number of sperm, prolongs sperm motility in vitro while produces no changes on sperm morphology. Therefore, chronic use of B. superba alcoholic extract may be useful in fertilization.

Introduction

Butea superba, known as "Kwaao Khruea Daeng" in Thai, has been used for physical and mental strength and for preventing age-related health problems. Thai traditional medicine uses B. superba as a rejuvenating agent and to increase sexual performance in men (Suntara, 1931). The plant preparation appears to improve an erectile function in patients with erectile dysfunction (ED) without any apparent toxicities (Cherdshewasart and Nimsakul, 2003). Fertilization in vivo requires adequate numbers of spermatozoa to be ejaculated with normal morphology and motility (Adamopoulos et al., 1996). Since spermatogenesis involves a complex process of cellular development, impairment in any of the development stages may lead to a reduction in the fertility. Long-term utilization of any sexual enhancers may affect the amount of and/or characteristics of spermatozoa resulting in altered fertilization capability. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate effects of chronic treatment of B. superba alcoholic extract on sperm motility and concentration in correlation to testicular damage in rats and mice.

Materials and Methods

Extract preparation

B. superba tuber roots were collected from Phrae, Thailand, and identified by Associate Professor Yuttana Smitasiri, School of Science, Mae Fah Luang University, Thailand. The roots were washed and air-dried at room temperature. The root cores were separated and sliced into small and thin pieces. Then they were dried in a hot air oven at 50o C and grinded into fine powder. The powder was extracted 3 times with ethanol at 1:4 ratio w/v and stirred overnight at room temperature. The ethanolic extract was evaporated under reduced pressure at 45o C using a rotary evaporator. The extract was dissolved in distilled water before used. Animals Male Sprague-Dawley rats (8 wks) and ICR mice (8 wks) were obtained from the National Laboratory Animal Center, Mahidol University, Nakornpathom, Thailand. They were housed under a 12:12-hour light-dark cycle and maintained at 24 + 1o C.

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Extract treatment

Groups of 6 animals were randomly divided into four groups: one control and three different treatment groups. The control rats and mice were orally administered distilled water daily for 6 months. The treatment groups received alcoholic extract of B. superba at the doses of 0.1, 1.0 or 10.0 mg/kg BW daily for 6 months. Preparation of culture drop Motility test was performed in the tissue culture medium 199 (TCM199) modified with Earle's salt with L-glutamine (Life Technologies, USA) and supplemented with 3 mg/ml bovine serum albumin (Sigma, USA). Sperm motility evaluation was performed in a 100-µl droplet under 10 ml paraffin oil in a 60-mm petri dish (Nunclon, Denmark) and equilibrated overnight in high humidified atmosphere at 5% carbon dioxide (CO2) in air before further analysis.

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Sperm motility assay

Sperm motility was assessed by the method of Bavister and Andrews (Bavister and Andrews, 1988). The distal cauda epididymis was dissected out and placed in 2 ml of equilibrated medium in a 35-mm tissue culture dish. A needle was employed to release the spermatozoa from the cauda epididymis into the medium. The spermatozoa were allowed to swim out into the medium for 3 min in the CO2 incubator at 37o C. Sperm concentrations were then determined. The medium was added to the culture drop for sperm motility assay providing a final concentration of 2 x 106 spermatozoa/ml. The tissue culture dish was placed under an inverted microscope (Nikon, Japan) and an observation was performed at a magnification of 20X within 1 min. The motility of sperm was observed at various time intervals up to 6 hrs.

Sperm count and morphology

Testicular histopathology The testis was dissected out, cut into small slices, and fixed in 10% formaldehyde buffer for 24 hrs. The tissues were washed free of 10% formaldehyde and stored in 70% alcohol until being embedded. The tissues were dehydrated in alcohol series and embedded in paraffin. Tissue sections of 5 µm thickness were prepared and placed on glass slides. The sections were stained with hematoxylin and eosin and mounted in mounting medium. The slides were examined under the light microscope. For each testis several cross sections composing of 20-50 tubule sections were examined for signs of interstitial edema, seminiferous tubule degeneration, and congestion.

Statistical analysis

Statistical analysis was performed using one way analysis of variance (ANOVA). If a significance was found, differences among individual group means were tested by the least significant difference (LSD) test. Values were considered statistically significant at P<0.05. The cauda epididymis was cut and weighed. A cell suspension was prepared by macerating the cauda in 1.0 ml of 0.85% saline. The cell suspension was kept for 24 hrs at 4o C.

The suspension was then filtered through a double gauze layer and an aliquot of the sample was used for sperm count in a Neubauer hemocytometer. An aliquot of the epididymal sperm suspension was smeared and stained with hematoxylin and eosin and then examined under a light microscope (CH-2, Olympus, Japan) at magnification of 100X. The head and tail abnormalities (200 sperms per animal) were recorded.

Results

Effect of B. superba on sperm motility Motility of the sperms from the control rats and mice at time zero were about 90% (Figures 1 and 2). The movement gradually declined with time and reduced to 70% at 6 hrs in both species. Long-term treatment of the animals with B. superba alcoholic extracts at the doses of 0.01, 0.1 or 1.0 mg/kg/day significantly delayed the reduction of the sperm motility compared to the control group. The motility of sperms from the treated animals remained over 75% at the sixth hour after being investigated. However, at the time zero, the extract-treated groups revealed no difference in motility compared to the control group.

Discussion and Conclusion

Sperm motility has been considered as one of the most important predictors of fertility. Several reports have demonstrated the correlation of motion parameters with fertilization rates (Check et al., 1990; Liu et al., 1991). Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the main energy source of the sperm motility. A reduced ATP production and/or reduced ATP levels via ATPase hydrolysis result in an insufficient energy and poor sperm motility. This study shows that B. superba prolonged the sperm motility via unknown mechanisms. It is possible that B. superba may increase the ATP production and/or utilization. In addition, it cannot be ruled out that the plant may act on the nitric oxide (NO)-cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) pathway. A number of studies have reported involvements of the NO and cAMP in the sperm motility. A nitric oxide synthase (NOS) inhibitor (NG -nitro-L-arginine methyl ester) (Lewis et al., 1996) and a NO scavenger (methylene blue) (Donnelly et al., 1996) were reported to inhibit movement of human spermatozoa. Sildenafil, an inhibitor of phosphodiesterase V, increases the velocity and amplitude in human spermatozoa (Lefievre et al., 2000). Sildenafil also dose-dependently increases cAMP production in the spermatozoa. Human spermatozoa subjected to capacitating conditions increase their endogenous NO synthesis and their intracellular cAMP content. The cAMP synthesis is increased by NO releasing compounds and decreased by NOS inhibitors (Belen Herrero et al., 2000). These studies suggest an involvement of the NO and cAMP in the movement of the spermatozoa. B. superba has been reported to inhibit phosphodiesterase activity in vitro (Roengsumran et al., 2000). Therefore, it is possible that B. superba may also prolong the sperm motility by increasing the cAMP production. However, further studies are required to confirm the proposed mechanisms of action of B. superba.

An assessment of a sperm motility loss over time is normally used as a quality control of an in vitro culture medium used in clinical analysis of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). Some laboratories employ sperm survival or stress tests to enhance the predictability of the in vitro fertilization rate (Alvarez et al., 1996; Coccia et al., 1997). Therefore, the motility results from this study are valid for further use in clinical study design of B. superba. The prolonged sperm motility in the culture medium by B. superba extract indicates that B. superba may be useful in infertile men. The number of spermatozoa was increased by B. superba extract. This may be caused by β-sitosterol component in B. superba. The enzymes in the testis convert β-sitosterol to pregnenolone, an important substrate of testosterone synthesis (Subbiah & Kursis, 1975). The testosterone activates the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) from hypothalamus. The follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) released by the GnRH induce the spermatogenesis and growth of spermatozoa.

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Macon, Georgia: Will We Ever Be Able to Transplant Human Brains?

Bryan R. McCain 2488 Oakridge Lane Macon, GA 31201

THE QUESTION: This week's question comes from Gawker reader and possible zombie Sarah, who asks, "Will brain transplants ever be possible? And, after the transplant, who would the person be – would they be the person whose brain was transplanted or the person whose body got the new brain?" On top of that, would continuous brain transplants be a good way to keep a mind alive forever? To the scientists.

THE VERDICT: Yes! Neurosurgeons are optimistic about the theoretical possibility of a human brain transplant, although it does not seem to be coming in the near term. If you had your brain transplanted into another person's body, you would maintain your own identity, although you might be somewhat traumatized and fucked up by the experience. And no, transplants will not allow you to live forever—and really, would you want to?? (A: No, only until they invent robot sex.)

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