ST Forum Online: Doctor using selective material to justify own conclusion

Friday, May 11, 2007

May 10, 2007
Doctor using selective material to justify own conclusion

I AM writing in response to Dr Alan Chin Yew Liang's letter, 'Homosexuality:Neither a disease nor an immutable trait' (Online forum, May 8).

I am shocked that a medical doctor by training would make such flawed statements.

He first wrote that 'a disease is defined as an impairment of health or condition of abnormal functioning' and 'homosexuality certainly fits the definition of a disease as there is an increased mortality rate mainly from Aids; the life expectancy of a homosexual and bisexual male is up to 20
years shorter compared to a normal male'.

I do not see how Aids is linked specifically with homosexuality. Aids affects humans, regardless of sexuality. Not all homosexuals contract Aids, and not all Aids sufferers are homosexual.

I am rather disappointed that he did not list the methodology of the study he quoted.

One key assumption was that 95 per cent of HIV deaths were attributed to gay and bisexual men, which was the case in Canada from 1987-1992 which was the height of the Aids epidemic in North America.

From the data collected by the Ministry of Health, from 1985 to June 2006, out of the total of 2,652 HIV-infected Singaporeans, 673 are homosexual or bisexual. How appropriate is this study in today's context in Singapore?

Subsequently, he stated that 'being a homosexual (statistically speaking) puts one at risk of suffering from poor health and dying early'.

Geschwind and Behan (1982) published the first study showing that people suffering from immune disorders and/or dyslexia were more likely to be left-handed.

In the first part of the study, the frequency of disease reported in left-handers was 2.7 times that of right-handers. This was especially true for thyroid and bowel disorders. In addition, left-handers reported learning disorder nine times more often than right-handers.

A second part of the study handed the questionnaire to the general public. However, only those who had a hospital diagnosis for an immune disorder were chosen. For this study, the rate concerning left-handers and immune disorders was 2.3 times that of right-handers.

From Dr Chin's line of reasoning, we would therefore conclude that left-handedness is a disease and require treatment as well.

Dr Chin also stated that 'a review of the history of events shows that the decision was not based on scientific evidence, but in fact was the response of an organisation under siege by gay activists'.

What he failed to note was that the research by Dr Robert Spitzer that he later cited was also rejected by the American Psychological Association when it issued a statement cautioning that 'there is no published evidence supporting the efficacy of reparative therapy as a treatment to change one's sexual orientation' .

It was noted the study was retrospective, that it lacked controls or independent measurements, and was based entirely on self-reports by people who were motivated to say they had changed because of their affiliation with ex-gay or anti-gay groups.

In 2001, Jack Drescher, M.D., Fapa Chair Committee on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues of the American Psychiatric Association, wrote a letter to the Finnish Parliament which discussed the Spitzer study:

'As for the scientific merits of his study, I believe it is significantly flawed. One flaw is that the majority of subjects in the study had one 45-minute telephone interview with Dr Spitzer and no follow-ups.

'Other than Dr Spitzer, I can find no reputable researcher who will agree that this is an accurate way to assess whether a person has changed their sexuality. That point was underscored in another study presented at the same symposium.

Schroeder and Shidlo's study (in press) found that many individuals who claimed to have changed sexual orientation during a first telephone interview changed their story at a second, follow-up interview.'

Dr Spitzer himself said in subsequent interviews: '...the kinds of changes my subjects reported are highly unlikely to be available to the vast majority (of gays and lesbians)... (only) a small minority - perhaps 3 per cent - might have a 'malleable' sexual orientation' . He expressed a concern
that his study results were being 'twisted by the Christian right'.

In 2005, he told the Washington Post that supporters of reparative therapy have misrepresented the results of his study. He said: 'It bothers me to be their knight in shining armour because on every social issue I totally disagree with the Christian right... What they don't mention is that change
is pretty rare."

As a member of the medical profession, Dr Chin's statements would carry more weight, and I would have expected a higher standard, instead of selectively reading research and studies that justify one's own conclusion, and ignoring that which does not.

Siew Meng Ee