In 1993 in an article in Science a group of researchers recommended caution regarding the ever-changing practices of prescribing hormone replacement therapy (HRT). In Britain the so-called Disablement Association of Hillingdon has begun a campaign to increase skepticism about the magical effects of exogenous estrogen, especially in view of heightened susceptibility to thrombo-embolic disorders and the waning of estrogen’s effectiveness as a preventive of osteoporosis. Even the case for HRT as a protective against heart disease has been questioned.
Women have given HRT a fair trial and rejected it. Not to take their HRT is almost as bad as smoking. Why, they will get heart disease like men do (though probably fewer thrombo-embolic disorders). They will die younger without HRT, goes the argument, which does not go so far as to point out that this represents a valuable service for the public health authorities. It is unthinkable that women would not be delighted to live out their lives dependent upon chemotherapy supplied at a price by the pharmaceutical biochemical superpowers.
Modern women are much more highly estrogenized than their recent ancestors. An zoologist from Oxford calculated that over a mere 200 years the average number of menstrual cycles experienced by a European woman in her lifetime had increased from about thirty to 450. Her calculation is based upon the menarche’s occurring earlier and upon the infrequent pregnancies that modern women can expect to carry to term together with shorter periods of lactation. If we add to this the artificially estrogenized condition of modern woman post-menopause we end up with an astonishing 600 or so cycles. There is no precedent in the history of the human female for the raised and sharply fluctuating levels of circulating steroid hormones that we endure but, as we did not know what made the nineteenth-century female feel well or even if she felt well, we can hardly guess whether the modern women is better or worse off because of her vastly altered endocrinology. Only the rising cancer figures tell us that she is worse off.
How you answer the question, whether individuals should be persuaded to live their whole lives in a state of chemical dependency, first upon contraceptive steroids and then on replacement therapy, depends upon your regard for the autonomy of the individual. If men would not live their lives this way, why should women? Even though all teenagers should by now be convinced that condoms should be their contraceptives of choice, British physicians have begun lobbying for the right to prescribe synthetic sex steroids to women under sixteen. The caponized woman is now the norm.