Boy? Girl? Now You Can Decide, but Should You?

New Pregnancy Tests Create Boy-Girl Options AND Ethical Concerns.

Posted Sep 07, 2011

How do you feel about knowing the sex of your baby ahead of time? Some people can't wait; others want the surprise of learning when the baby arrives. 

New in-home pregnancy tests available online can determine fetus gender at seven weeks from maternal blood. A report earlier this month in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) confirmed the accuracy of 6,000 pregnancy tests similar to the ones being sold to consumers.

Amniocentesis, performed 16 or so weeks into a pregnancy, tests for birth defects and identifies gender. You might see a fetus's sex earlier on a sonogram, but very unlikely at seven weeks-exactly what new pregnancy tests determine. In the United States, for now, you can learn the fetus's gender quite early and some may exercise the choice in whether or not to have a son or daughter. A few states already have laws prohibiting sex selection abortions; how effective they will be remains to be seen.

Boy or Girl? Find Out at 7 Weeks  

Early testing has merit in determining possible abnormalities and sex-linked disease such as hemophilia. However, the controversy over the ethics of gender selection after conception will rage. Even the test-makers know this. To that end, the test is not marketed in China or India where sex-selection abortions have been an ongoing problem. In India, Union health secretary K. Chandramouli told The Times of India, "It's a matter of grave concern that educated people in cities, who are better off, are opting for sex determination tests."

Some companies like Pink or Blue?  that sell the early sex identification kits ask buyers to sign waivers in which they agree not to use the results for sex selection purposes. More pointedly, how many will end a pregnancy early because the gender result is not the one they hoped for?

Whole industries have developed around conceiving a male or female offspring including sperm and embryo sorting, for example. The procedures originally designed to help infertile couples become pregnant and/or to look for genetic abnormalities have expanded into other areas. One such company Gender Select, in Kentucky, is a case in point. The company claims "a SAFE, EFFECTIVE and AFFORDABLE laboratory procedure that will help you to increase the chances of having a baby boy or a baby girl."

Revolutionary AND a Moral Dilemma

Early gender detection can be viewed as revolutionary, a brilliant technological advance giving women and men a choice to have-or not have-the boy or girl they always wanted. Professionals involved in reproductive medicine have been facing issues raised by this type of technology for over 20 years. Each successive reproductive advance in consumer genetics such as egg donation or surrogacy presents a new series of moral concerns about social engineering. 

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine addressed ethical concerns of gender selection ten years ago. In relation to IVF technology and treatment, the society's Ethics Committee wrote, "The use of preconception techniques for nonmedical gender selection raises important ethical and social concerns that need thorough attention before these techniques become available for nonmedical purposes." In the same report, they counsel "against widespread use" and added this caveat: "sex selection aimed at increasing gender variety in families may not so greatly increase the risk of harm to children, women, or society that its use should be prohibited or condemned as unethical in all cases."

The points made by the Ethics Committee require great thought. Do you think safe, early gender selection should be a personal choice?

For more on another reproductive choice, see this New York Times article, The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy. Women carrying twins discussed their decision to abort of one them.

Also of interest: One Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring 

Copyright 2011 by Susan Newman