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I Don’t Think We Should Be Allowed to Choose the Sex of Our Kids

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

This week’s Kardashian news (as there is barely a day that goes by where the K. crew aren’t in the news) is that Kim and Kanye only had male embryos implanted when they were trying for baby no. 2. So they knew from the start that if they got pregnant, it would be a boy.

I must confess that I did wonder why this was confirmed so early, as normally here in the UK it is at a 20-week ultrasound that a baby’s sex can be revealed.

I’m all for IVF and people getting help with having a baby. I’ve had many friends who’ve had to endure the pain and disappointment of infertility, and any kind of medical intervention that can help the process of conceiving, I’m all for.

But (yup, there is a but) gender selection sounds like we’re going against the grace of God in some way. I’m not religious, but I can’t help but feel that one of the joys of life (the one thing you cannot dictate) is discovering whether or not you’re having a boy or a girl.

There is something incredibly cynical and clinical about choosing the sex of your baby. Sure, the Wests can afford it (it costs a cool $17,000), but isn’t there something a little bit wrong with this picture? Aren’t we supposed to hope and wish for a healthy, happy baby — and the rest is kind of irrelevant? If this trend were to catch on, would we have a freezer full of unwanted female embryos?

When I was 20 weeks pregnant with my daughter in 2010, I went for my routine ultrasound and there were signs everywhere stating that we were not allowed to ask the sex of the baby. A nurse explained that apparently many women of a certain religion that lived in the area had terminated pregnancies if they discovered they were having a girl. The hospital then took a stance that they wouldn’t reveal the sex. In the end I went to a private clinic, as I wanted to know the gender simply to be more prepared.

But knowing the sex of your unborn child is a world away from dictating the sex itself. If gender selection becomes the norm, what will that mean for families? Will we all be a 2.4? Already in China and India there has been widespread use of pregnancy ultrasounds, leading to the selective abortion of female fetuses.

In the UK people are only allowed to choose the sex of their IVF babies if there is a medical reason for it — such as the risk of a sex-related genetic defect, like Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which affects only boys.

In 2013, Stephen Wilkinson, a professor of bioethics at Lancaster University, told The Independent newspaper:

“We examined the ethics of gender preference and sex-selection techniques in the British context and found no reason to expect harm to future children or the wider society if these techniques were made available for ‘social’ reasons within our regulated fertility treatment sector. People who would prefer their new baby to be of a particular sex often have their own very personal reasons for this, to do with their family’s particular circumstances or history. We didn’t find any ethical arguments sufficient to justify a blanket ban on these people seeking sex selection.”

He went on to explain that if people chose to use reproductive technology to choose the sex of their child, it wouldn’t lead to a major imbalance of the sexes within the wider population.

However, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which licenses fertility clinics in the UK, has ruled against sex selection, saying it should not be allowed for “social” reasons and arguing that it is not in the best interests of either society or the child. In their 2002 review, HFEA said, “There was substantial public concern about the welfare of the children born as a result of sex selection when this is carried out for non-medical reasons.”

Of course, we all know someone who only had sons and longed for a daughter or vice versa, so is there an argument for “balancing” a family through gender selection? If we could all afford it and it was available, would we all do it?

The method used in IVF is called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and is the most accurate technique for gender selection, with an almost 100% success rate. The selection of the baby’s sex is made before the embryo is implanted to the woman’s uterus. Embryos are incubated until they reach the stage of 6-10 cells each, then one cell is carefully removed, and the genetic test is performed. Then only the healthy embryos of the desired gender are implanted into the woman’s uterus. After a successful implantation, the mother will know she is expecting the sex she asked for.

Maybe I’m just superstitious, but I feel that children are a blessing, and to tamper with what you are meant to be given creates an imbalance — be it in karma or the universe.

I’m no hippy at heart, but I do think that gender selection creates a template — and where will we go from there? Will we start to create babies of a certain athletic ability or intelligence level? Will there be an über tribe that is genetically created that is superior to all other children? Where will it stop? And what of all the unwanted fetuses that don’t match the ticket list of their demanding would-be parents? Does that sit well with you?

So while I obviously congratulate the Wests and wish them nothing but the best, I am slightly relieved I live in the UK — where gender selection is banned and we’re just grateful to be pregnant, and thankful for what we get.

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