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The World's First Male Pregnancy

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Dear Urban Legends:

I was pointed to the website www.malepregnancy.com and there is quite a story there. Evidently they are claiming this Mr. Lee is actually pregnant. There are biomedical facts and statistics, live video and photos as well as an interview.

Is this legit?



Dear Reader:

Legitimate? I think not. We don't even know who the father is.

The more relevant question is: Is it art? — because that's the spirit in which this elaborate Internet hoax was conceived.

"POP! The First Human Male Pregnancy" purports to follow the medical progress of a Taiwanese man who volunteered to have an embryo implanted in his abdominal cavity. According to the website, the child will be delivered by Caesarian section when it reaches full term (the whole gruesome process is detailed here).

If authentic, this would obviously be a true medical first — notwithstanding every "man gives birth" story we've seen on the covers of supermarket tabloids this past century (e.g., "Man Gives Birth to a Healthy Baby Boy!" in the July 7, 1992 issue of the Weekly World News).

An elaborate put-on

But it's not true. On the contrary, it's an elaborate put-on conceived by artists Virgil Wong and Lee Mingwei. Both are members of a collective known as "PaperVeins," described as "a multidisciplinary arts group developing work about the human body as seen through medicine, society and technology."

GenoChoice, the nonexistent research firm credited with providing the technical know-how to get Mr. Lee knocked up, was also masterminded by Wong (who, online records show, owns both the malepregnancy.com and genochoice.com domain names). "This is a fictitious web site," reads a disclaimer on the GenoChoice home page, "created to be an exploration of a very likely scenario that may one day result from new advances in biotechnology and infertility treatments."

Moreover, Lee Mingwei's bio attests that he "ostensibly became the first man to gestate and carry a child in his own body" [emphasis added]. A closer look at the site reveals that the "streaming videos" and "live EKG of Mr. Lee," as well as the "ultrasound video" of the fetus, are simply animated GIF images. They remain precisely the same from one day to the next.

So the whole thing is fake from top to bottom. But is it plausible?

Not very. Some scientists have argued that a male pregnancy is theoretically possible, but in reality the procedure would be so dangerous that the risks would outweigh any possible benefits.

Essentially what it would require would be inducing an ectopic pregnancy — wherein an embryo is implanted somewhere other than the uterus — in a male subject. In women such pregnancies are considered so hazardous (the number one cause of first-trimester deaths) that they're almost always terminated soon after diagnosis. Even if such a condition could be artificially induced in a male, the subject would run a greater and greater risk of hemorrhaging to death as the pregnancy proceeded.

is it art?

So the whole thing is implausible. But is it art?

Well, sure — if only in the sense that it's an elaborately constructed farce credited to two established conceptual artists. But there's nothing particularly original or groundbreaking here. In a deadpan interview, Lee Mingwei waxes indignant over the fact that historically the idea of a man bearing a child has been considered laughable. It's been the butt of jokes in folklore and popular culture from ancient times because it flies in the face of gender stereotypes in virtually every society, not to mention nature.

"Now that pregnant men are a reality," Lee asserts, tongue implanted firmly in cheek, "no one is laughing anymore!"

Ah, but they are, because in fact it's the same old joke simply dressed up as "art" and plastered on a fancy website. Folks are still laughing, trust me.

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