Three years ago, South African sprinter Caster Semenya came under scrutiny when the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) demanded she take a gender test, leading to the discovery that the 18-year-old woman had a pair of testicles where her ovaries ought to be, despite carrying two X chromosomes and an otherwise fully female anatomy.
Since that time, the IAAF has created a policy requiring that women with “unusually high” testosterone levels either take drugs or undergo surgery to compensate for what they feel is an unfair advantage.
The problem, aside from an obvious invasion of privacy, is that the leading experts don’t even know what a “normal” level of testosterone is for a woman, nor do they know how much it accounts for athletic performance.
Last week, bioethicists Katrina Karkazis, Rebecca Jordan-Young, and colleagues published a critique of the IAAF’s policy in The American Journal of Bioethics, calling for the policy’s repeal before the start of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
According to Jordan-Young, “Individuals have dramatically different responses to the same amounts of testosterone, and it is just one element in a complex neuroendrocrine feedback system.”
Furthermore, the team warns that ”the proposed policies would not only be unfair, but also could lead to female athletes being coerced into unnecessary and potentially harmful medical treatment in order to continue competing,” according to a press release issued by the Stanford University Medical Center.