September 11, 2019 | Inewssource

Why UCSD keeps denying a genital mutilation study involving Kenyan girls

For years, a distinguished UC San Diego economist has wanted to stop young girls in Kenya from undergoing genital mutilation by offering them and their families money toward education.

UCSD Professor Uri Gneezy thinks he can end the centuries-old practice within the Maasai community by using economic incentives, but research approval boards at his university worry that his study may do more harm than good.

The boards have said Gneezy’s plan is riddled with social, legal and ethical problems that far outweigh the study’s potential benefits. There are questions about child safety and how to ethically study an illegal act, as well as concerns about privacy, financial sustainability, cultural ignorance and Western arrogance.


A review board documenting that kind of frustration in its meeting minutes is “very unusual,” said Holly Fernandez Lynch, an assistant professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and an expert in research ethics and regulation.

“They’re just frustrated with him,” Fernandez Lynch said. “He thinks there are no ethical issues and clearly there are.”

She said female genital mutilation is very serious, with deep cultural context behind it, and it appeared Gneezy’s approach to studying it was “sloppy.”

However, she said, the bigger question about whether someone can conduct research on the practice is “really important.”

“This is not an easily open and shut case,” she said.

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