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The Pill This Man's Pill: Reflections on the 50th Birthday of the Pill

JAMA. 2002;288(3):387. doi:10.1001/jama.288.3.387.
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This Man's Pill is a memoir by Dr Carl Djerassi, professor of chemistry at Stanford University. When he was 28 years old, Djerassi led a team of steroid biochemists at Syntex laboratories in Mexico to synthesize the oral progestational agent norethindrone (17-α ethynyl-19-nortestosterone). This accomplishment enabled the clinical development of oral contraceptive pills.

In a reproductive metaphor, Djerassi deems himself the "mother" of the Pill. He and his colleagues were in Mexico to synthesize an oral agent that was more active than progesterone, and they predicted that its eventual application would be to treat menstrual disorders or infertility. At the time, Djerassi was not focusing on ovulation inhibition or contraception. Many believe that Djerassi's laboratory achievements would have meant little without the cooperative efforts of biologists Gregory Pincus and M. C. Chang, clinicians John Rock and Celso Ramon-Garcia, and social activist Margaret Sanger, among others. Djerassi mentions these names in his autobiography and does concede that Pincus should be considered a father of the pill. Djerassi writes, "the real birth of the Pill was 15 October 1951, the day our laboratory completed the first synthesis of a steroid eventually destined to be used for oral contraception." But of the book's title, he writes, "‘This Man's Pill' is not a statement of proprietorship . . . but rather the distillate of a self-examination, that is far from over."


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