Sex selection

No, this isn’t about dating, sorry.

I read an interesting piece this morning on I Blame the Patriarchy. It discussed a small, but perhaps growing, trend–going to fertility clinics and choosing the gender of your child.

I have mixed feelings about this practice on a number of levels. The first is that I very strongly disapprove of fertility treatments. I feel that if you cannot conceive, your body is sending a message, and that message is “no babies here, sorry.” There are children all over the world who need homes very much, and would benefit greatly from being in the arms of a loving family, and yet spoiled yuppies insist that they must bear their own children. (And then complain about the symptoms of pregnancy, stretch marks, and so forth.) Strictly speaking, they don’t actually “bear” their own children, because most choose a c-section, another unnatural procedure of which I disapprove. (Although in a medical emergency where mother or child are in danger, by all means, proceed–I refer to the recent fad of “scheduling” your baby’s birth, which is troubling to me.) “Oh, but adoption is often really expensive,” you say, “and the cost is prohibitive.” I don’t know when the last time you checked on the cost of fertility treatments was, but it’s expensive. Like paying for private school and Harvard for your child expensive. Adoption and fostering are options, and they should be pursued before fertility treatment. Every time. Period. There is no reason to pursue fertility treatment when there are healthy children without families. For shame.

I am also not a big fan of genetic engineering. I just don’t think it’s justified. In rare cases, where someone has a genetic defect, it might be considered. Or if a family has a genetically inherited disease of which they were unaware before pregnancy. (But, really, if your family is prone to a problem which is linked to genetics…adopt! Rather than risking the creation of an unhealthy child, if you are so bothered by that thought.) I feel that genetic engineering of fetal material is a dangerous and slippery slope. It’s one thing to say “hey doctor, could you remove that Tay-Sachs,” and another to say “hey doctor, I’d really like my child to have blue eyes.” Humans are notorious for having issues with basic ethics and I don’t think we should compound the problem by opening a pandora’s box of baby options. Insert penis into vagina, make baby, move on, kids. Although we really should be doing a lot less of than, considering our dangerously growing population.

However, gender selection also has a dangerous undercurrent to me. In China, there are a large number of girl orphans, because males are traditionally more valued. Many other nations also experience this problem. I fail to see any case in which selecting the gender of your child is justified. Indeed, I believe that it sets a precedent–“don’t want a girl? Don’t worry!” I would be interested to see the results of a survey asking which sex parents would prefer, if they had a choice, and I would not be terribly surprised to learn that boys came out on top. There seems to be some sort of preconception (sorry) about boys and girls. Pre-selecting the gender of your child will not pre-determine its personality traits. You might chose a boy, and end up with a very effeminate man who is more interested in cooking than football, as Twisty puts it. You might also select a girl and end up with a butch child who prefers woodshop to home ec. Girls and boys are complicated and wonderful animals, but one thing they are not is predictable or reliable. I thought that was supposed to be the fun in child-rearing, anyway.

However, a commenter on her site raised an interesting point–in a way, sex selection is like abortion. As someone who is admittedly pro-choice, why should I have a problem with someone “aborting” the wrong sex? It is not for me to dictate the circumstances in which a woman should have an abortion–it is her choice, and it is always her choice, whether or not I may personally disapprove of her reasoning or the timing. Should couples engaging in sex selection decide to donate their extra embryos to research, other couples, or destroy them, it’s not my affair. However, I think it is important to make a few distinctions here:

1. No uteri are involved in this situation. Eggs and sperm are extracted from donors (exactly the way in which they would be for a costly fertility treatment). They are combined in a petri dish and allowed to grow. Once the zygotes reach the eight cell stage, one cell from each is biopsied and sex-typed. One lucky little zygote gets to be implanted in mommy if it meets her gender needs. This is a case of “choice,” to be sure, but it is implemented outside the body, and therefore, I believe it falls into a different realm.

2. The procedure is extremely costly, and really available only to the very rich. Abortion is available to all women. (Though, alas, at different levels of safety and medical proficiency.) But there is not a massive class gap which determines whether or not a woman can make the choice to abort. (Although if Mr Bush has his way, there will be.)

3. I believe that gender selection sets a dangerous precedent for equal rights. It is for this reason that I am categorically opposed to it, although the above argument did give me pause. You cannot engage in an expensive medical procedure to determine the sex of your child and still be an equal-rights advocate. Gender selection hurts the world, and it hurts the cause of feminism, among others.

Also, gender selection is really weird. I hope that all of these babies grow up gender-queer and frustrate their parents no end in the process.