DNA tests can now tell you the sex of your baby at as early as seven weeks of pregnancy. Most women don’t even go in for the first prenatal visit until 6-8 weeks, so this could effectively mean they could find out the sex of their future babies at the same time they confirm that they’re actually carrying viable pregnancies.
Currently, women who want to know their babies’ sex have had to wait until the second trimester. Many sex differentiations are made by looking at the fetus on the ultrasound, but it’s not always possible to tell, or tell accurately. So far, the only way to find out for sure whether the fetus is male or female is via amniocentesis. This new test works by searching for male DNA in the mother’s bloodstream.The test is reportedly 99% accurate and does not pose a risk to the developing embryo (it’s not even a fetus yet!).
But it is being met with some serious controversy…
Some are worried that this early sex test will encourage women to abort more pregnancies. There’s a particular concern in cultures where male babies are considered more valuable than females. The test has sparked debate in Israel, where it was developed (and is currently available in at least one hospital) as well as in other countries around the world.
Case in point, this article on the Israeli site ynet:
New test for fetus’s sex prompts ethical debate
Parents-to-be can now learn sex of their baby on seventh week, with plenty of time left for abortion
The article cites an OB who is opposed to the test: “Performing the test at such an early stage opens up an immoral and unethical choice to couples interested in a baby of a specific sex to abort the pregnancy and try again.”
And another, with an opposing viewpoint:”If there is medical information and a system that allows for identification of the sex at an early stage, why keep it from people interested in the results?” says Dr. Esther Guetta, who chairs the cyto-genetic unit at the hospital’s Institute of Human Genetics. “If a woman wants and can afford the test, you could say it would be unethical to prevent her from getting it.”
Similar questions are being asked in the UK, where the test will apparently be available, if it isn’t already. Versions of a DNA test are available in the U.S. as well, though it’s not clear if they use the same technology. (Accuracy of the U.S. tests is definitely in dispute according to women who have used the tests).
Yesterday I wrote about Mariah Carey choosing to keep the sex of her baby a mystery, or at least keep it private, to avoid the influence of cultural attitudes about gender. This takes the same issue to a whole new level. Could attitudes about gender cause women to terminate pregnancy? The concern is greatest with women in cultures with strong gender inequality. But could it happen here? There are plenty of parents with intense preference for one sex or another, for lots of reasons.
Would having the information sooner result in “sex selection abortions?”
Would you want to know the sex of your baby at seven weeks pregnant?
photo: Andrew Booth/flickr