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Gender Selection As Part Of Advanced Reproductive Technology: Does The U.S. Prefer Boys Or Girls?

While most people aren’t extremely concerned about what gender child they have, it’s becoming more and more important to some – partly due to the balancing of families, and sometimes due to health issues which only are present in male or female children. Whatever the reason, there has been an increase in people seeking gender selection of their child using advanced reproductive technologies. This is legal in the United States, but is forbidden for religious, ethical, and cultural reasons in many countries, which cause some individuals from other countries to seek this service in the United States, with nobody in their home country being any wiser for it.

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A report from The Charlotte Observer says that about one in every eight U.S. women of reproductive age and their partners who wish to become pregnant have difficulty getting pregnant, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. That’s partly due to the fact that women are waiting longer than ever to start childbearing, partially because they want to have careers and relationships well under way before they become parents. Obtaining funds for reproductive technology is a feat as well, since most insurances do not cover reproductive problems. It is not uncommon for one In Vitro Fertilization procedure to cost around $20,000.

It’s well known that female fertility begins to decline with age, sharply dropping off after age 35, and becoming much harder to achieve pregnancy past age 40. Because a woman is born with all the human ova she will ever have, her egg is as old as she is at the time of fertilization, which means that there is a higher risk of genetic mutations, anomalies, and miscarriage. Fortunately, with advanced reproductive technologies, embryos that have genetic mutations can be identified, and gender can also be chosen if the parent desires.

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Dr. Stephen Somkuti, of Abington Reproductive Medicine, explains how this is helpful to couples who have trouble conceiving.

“You can exclude the abnormal ones from the transfer, stack the deck in the patient’s favor for optimizing a healthy outcome. Obviously, advantages are not only increasing the chance of a success, but diminishing the chances of miscarriages, because most miscarriages are due to chromosomal abnormalities during the first trimester. People come in for family balancing reasons; they may have three girls and want a boy. But it’s not as common as you would think. We are not being flooded by people who want gender selection, but the technology is clearly available.”

Dr. Sara Morelli, a specialist who directs the Rutgers University Medical School Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility in North Jersey, says that gender selection is important to different parents for different reasons, but it usually is not their primary goal: their primary goal is to have a healthy baby.

“It is a service that we offer (gender selection). The vast majority of couples are coming for chromosome screening to better their chances of a successful pregnancy and not necessarily to select the gender. Once they have the information, some will choose the gender, but most will ask us to put in the healthiest looking embryo.”

Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the California-based Center for Genetics and Society, says that it is a big ethical issue, with 49 countries banning gender selection for various reasons.

“There are regions of the world where sex selection is so widespread it’s leading to widely skewed sex ratios and it’s a crisis. Some countries have laws against it, but they are not well-enforced.”

For U.S. citizens, there does not seem to be a preference for one gender over the other thus far, though gene editing for things like height and eye color may become an ethical consideration in the future.

[Photo by Fred Morley/Fox Photos/Getty Images]

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