Press Trust of India
Marriage within close relations or within the same community may increase the risk of hermaphroditism as it helps preserve bad genetic factors responsible for this congenital disorder, doctors have warned.
Hermaphroditism or indeterminate sex is primarily a result of genetic malfunctions, Dr Garry Warne, head of the Endocrinology Department at Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, said at an international workshop on inter-sex disorders here.
"Sex determination is a complex process that involves several genes on the sex chromosome (thread-like cellular structures carrying hereditary information to ascribe the sex)," he said.
Male and female embryos are indistinguishable until 42 days' gestation when 'SRY' -- the gene that releases the initial signal in determining cell fate -- is switched on to assign the sex of a child.
"But about two-third hermaphrodites do not have this important sex determining gene, due to some unknown reasons," Dr Warne said, adding one in 4,500 children around the world is born with such ambiguous sex.
Apart from the genetic predisposition, hermaphroditism could also originate from certain ayurvedic drugs, usually taken during pregnancy, that contain heavy metals, head of the Paediatrics Department at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), here said.
India has the highest number of babies with indeterminate sex, Dr Gupta said, adding each year about 40 such cases are treated in AIIMS.
The inability to determine the sex of a child usually leads to psychological problems for that child in the following years making it extremely difficult for him to adjust in society, he said.
In India most of the hermaphrodites are reared as `male' by their parents.
"An infertile male is socially more acceptable here than an incomplete woman," he said. The sex could be assigned by surgical methods, he said, adding though the surgical intervention sometimes goes against the 'genetic ruling' it in no way affects the patient because sex isnot controlled solely by genes.
1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.