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Volume 8, Number 10Space holderMarch 12, 2004

George Washington likely infertile, UW researcher says

George Washington, who never had children with his wife Martha, was likely infertile, according to a paper by a UW researcher that will appear in the March issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility.

Washington could have been rendered infertile by a tuberculosis infection, according to the paper's author, John Amory, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine. Amory mentions other possible, though less likely, causes of Washington's infertility, including: microdeletions in the Y chromosome; a congenital absence of the vas deferens; varicocele, the enlargement of the veins that drain the testicles; and cryptorchidism, the failure of the testicles to descend into the scrotum.

The theory that Washington was infertile is supported, Amory says, by historical evidence, such as Washington's desire for an heir and the fact that his wife Martha had four children with her first husband.

When he was younger, Washington had suffered from a pulmonary inflammation shortly after spending time with his brother Lawrence, who was dying from tuberculosis. Washington then suffered from symptoms consistent with gastrointestinal tuberculosis, which is often contracted by victims of pulmonary tuberculosis and is an occasional precursor to genitourinary tuberculosis.

Because there isn't evidence supporting other causes of Washington's infertility, Amory says, and because he was exposed to and suffered from symptoms of tuberculosis, that infection most likely made him infertile.

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