Dutch researchers are reporting that they’re able to determine a fetus’s sex with 100% accuracy at five weeks using a maternal blood test. Previous tests had only be available for women several months into their pregnancies. The findings were reported this week in the publication Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The study was conducted from 2003 to 2009 and included 201 expectant mothers in the Netherlands who were referred by geneticists or gynecologists advising them on possible genetic diseases. Although the researchers were not able to issue a conclusion in twelve of the cases, in the 189 cases on which they did make a determination, they were correct 189 times.
The technique is non-invasive and it’s safer than amniocentesis and chronic villus sampling, both of which carry unlikely, but serious risks and can only be performed later in pregnancy. Since several genetic disorders are linked to the X chromosome, for example, this blood test will allow families with a probability of gene-based disorders to know early whether they have a boy, who will likely carry the disease, like hemophilia, or a girl, who will not.
In addition, if the blood of a woman whose fetus was likely to have a sex-based abnormality confirmed that she’s carrying a boy, invasive testing is warranted. But if she’s carrying a girl, she and her fetus are spared the additional testing.
Some disorders can be treated in utero, if discovered, like cortical adrenal hyperplasia, a condition that affects females and can alter the development of sex organs. But most other disorders cannot be treated. This means that if the test confirms an abnormality, it won’t change the choices parents have, between accepting a genetic disease, or choosing abortion. What’s more, there’s the real possibility that earlier, easier sex determination could encourage selective abortion by families seeking either a boy or a girl.
It’s a complex situation in which many ethical concerns are raised.
What do you think? Are you concerned that the test could lead to abortions based on gender selection?