Prostate cancer patient Dana Jennings (who also happens to be a New York Times editor) has us thinking again about just what it means to be a man. Jennings, who was diagnosed earlier this year, is learning about the ironic, gendered side effects associated with his cancer treatment. According to Jennings, one of the drugs prescribed to him, Lupron, is a “testosterone suppressant, designed to starve hormone-dependent cancer cells of the fuel (testosterone) that they crave in order to grow.” Among the more notable side effects are Jennings’ shrinking testicles, hot flashes, and potentially enlarged breasts. The gendered implications of these bodily changes are not lost on Jennings, who notes that “(T)he treatment of the disease strikes at the very heart of our clichéd, John Wayne image of the American male.” To be sure, Jennings’ cancer treatment pushes us to continue our sociological meditations on gender. But we can also view this situation through the lens of the “unintended consequences of modernity.” In other words, Mr. Jennings’ treatment calls to mind the social ironies of rationalized life. A life, for instance, in which science can cure lethal disease, but not before it has undermined much of what we think we know about our own gender identity!
Science, rationality and risk: the case of genetic testing