August 2005 - Posts
As the debate in Britian continues about sex selection for family balancing, one editorialist opines that there's really no reason not to allow parents to choose the gender of their baby.
As for the idea that choosing your child’s sex is somehow immoral, why do the same critics not inveigh against these more homespun techniques [the squirt of lemon or the high-sodium diet or the immaculate timing]? The intention behind them is exactly the same, after all, whether you are dosing yourself with salty food or sending his sperm to a lab.
We are in danger of letting the “yuck factor” determine our legislation. Thirty years ago, the yuck factor nearly put paid to IVF, which was then known — a little yuckily — as “test-tube babies”. Now IVF is commonplace and few people find it disturbing.
Britian is only a "hop, skip, and a jump" away from the nightmare vision of social engineering portrayed in Aldous Huxley's science fiction classic "Brave New World", according to the chairman of the British Medical Association Welsh Council.
As the UK government considers whether to lift the ban on gender selection for family balancing, Dr. Tony Calland warns that allowing parents to use sex selection on non-medical grounds puts us on the dreaded "slippery slope" toward Huxley's science fiction dystopia, where the inhabitants are standardized, laboratory-grown clones, pre-programmed to be members of the upper class or desgined to be worker drones.
"There are a lot of people who will see any loosening of this Act as a further step on the slippery slope - the end point being where you decide that you want a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who is bright and good at tennis. That takes us down a road which, to my mind, is Brave New World territory. ... We are now a hop, skip and a jump away from it and that makes me very uncomfortable."
Although I'm quite a science fiction fan myself, just for the heck of it let's check out the science facts.
- Scientists do not know which gene combinations are responsible for complex traits like intelligence, athletic ability, leadership, beauty, and so on.
- Scientists cannot alter an embryo's genetic makeup to produce a desired trait, such as eye color, or even to correct a defect, such as having a disease gene. So far, this has been accomplished only in laboratory animals, and not entirely successfully. Many attempts at genetic modifications introduce unwanted mutations with extreme developmental consequences, even death. We are not a "hop, skip, and a jump" away from using this on humans experimentally, much less on a widespread basis.
- Parents cannot design a baby with many desired traits by genetic screening. Although you have seen dozens of news stories about so-called "designer babies" like Jamie Whitaker, the term design is actually incorrect. It's only used because the media knows it's an attention-grabber.
In fact, scientists can merely select an embryo which already has a desired trait. The embryo is still the natural, unaltered offspring of the parents. Genetic screening can do no more than simply identify whether an embryo has a desired trait or not.
So what would stop parents from writing a laundry list of desirable traits for their baby, and selecting only embryos that match?
Parents are limited simply by the number of their embryos available to choose from. As anyone who has been through IVF knows, during each IVF attempt, only a very limited number of viable, healthy embryos can be produced. It just isn't feasible to screen for several "designer" characteristics. Dr. Robert Jansen explains it very well:
First, no gene (unless both parents have it) is going to appear in more than, on average, half the embryos.
Second, how the different genes (all 32,000 or more of them) assort with each other is totally out of our hands, even in an IVF lab. In a restricted number of embryos, as is always the case after egg retrieval and IVF, probably much less than half will even be normal (in terms of having the normal number of chromosomes); of these, on average no more than half will have one wanted gene, no more than a quarter will have two wanted ones, an eighth will have three ... and so on. If you want to get too picky, you quickly run out of embryos.
As for the "slippery slope" -- although gender selection using MicroSort and PGD has been available in the US for a number of years (I used MicroSort 5 years ago), I certainly haven't noticed any tendency for Americans to give up procreating the good old fashioned way.
(Note to Dr. Calland: War of the Worlds isn't real, either; please do not be alarmed.)
This post is so difficult to write, but I felt I could not let this
story pass without mentioning the tragic fate of Nita Koli, a
25-year-old mother in Gujarat, India. Six months
pregnant, the young woman was burned to death by her husband
and mother-in-law, apparently after learning her baby was a third
The most appalling aspect of this story is that Nita is far from unique in her sad fate -- each year in India, thousands of women are burned in a crime called bride burning.
The practice is carried out by men who find their wife unsatisfactory
for some reason, usually dowry-related. Even though the dowry
custom has been outlawed in India, a bride's parents are expected to
provide the couple with expensive gifts and money, sometimes throughout
the marriage. If the husband is dissatisfied with the dowry, or
if the parents fall behind in payments, the wife may become a victim of
bride burning; often disguised as an accident or (incredibly)
suicide. The husband, conveniently enough, is now
eligible for a new wife and another dowry.
In Nita Koli's case, it seems clear that husband Sanjay was
displeased with the economics of receiving one dowry for Nita, yet
facing the demands for three dowries from future in-laws. Whether
he and his mother, Kuwar Koli, will be punished for this barbaric crime
remains to be seen. On the date of Nita's burning, August 10, a
"complaint of harassment was lodged with the Morbi police". The two
were not even arrested until Nita died from her burns a week later, when they were charged with murder.
In the current debate in the UK over whether the ban on sex
selection should be lifted, there are some who argue that permitting
gender selection for non-medical reason sends the wrong message to
countries with a strong preference for boys. The gender ratio in
India, in particular, has become distorted from the use of sex
selective abortion, infanticide, neglect, and abandonment. (I
don't personally consider these practices to be "sex selection", any
more than I would consider abortion to be "birth control".) The
Indian government is actually promoting a "Save the Girl Child"
campaign, imploring parents not to abort female babies or murder their
newborn daughters. The very idea that a government finds it
necessary to beg parents not to kill their own children, is mind
boggling to the point of incomprehension.
To those working to improve the plight of women in India, outrage
over a procedure like MicroSort cannot be overstated, because it is
viewed as inherently sexist -- that choosing a baby's sex implies
favoring one sex over the other. However, being steeped in a
culture that favors males so strongly that women become viewed as
little more than incubators for more males, they have missed a crucial
point: The majority of those seeking to use sex selection in Western countries want to have girls. ]
Every statistic available for sex selection bears out a desire for
girls. More girls are requested at MicroSort in the US and at
Ericsson clinics worldwide. British couples undergoing
infertility treatment were polled about gender selection, and many more
said they would choose to have a girl, if the choice were
available. Even sales the at-home Gen-Select gender selection kit
are reported to be higher for the female kit.
The message from the responsible use of sex selection for family
balancing isn't that one sex is superior, but that both are equally
desired and treasured. And that daughters aren't merely a burden
to be tolerated, but are beloved and cherished; and desired so strongly
that mothers are willing to surmount enormous obstacles for the joy of
Please pray with me for the welfare the two daughters left
behind by Nita Koli, whose circumstances, I can only imagine, must be
very grim indeed.
After three daughters in a row, Jon and Kacie Dawe hoped that MicroSort could increase their chances of having a boy.
Their first MicroSort attempt, however, proved to be unsuccessful. Jon flew to Fairfax, Virginia, to provide a sperm sample, which was sorted using the MicroSort procedure to increase the percentage of Y-sperm. The sample was frozen, then shipped home where it was used to artificially inseminate Kacie, who did not become pregnant.
"... it would be nice to have a boy. If it ends up being a girl, it is a girl," Kacie said in July 2004 before the couple tried MicroSort for the second time. "I don't think I would have done anything that required me to choose between embryos. When you go through all this you realize how precious life is."
For their second attempt, the couple travelled to MicroSort for IVF, combining their quest for a son with a family vacation in Washington, DC. Three embryos were implanted, and Kacie and Jon surely rejoiced to learn that she was pregnant. At 16 weeks pregnancy, an ultrasound showed that Kacie was carrying twins, a boy and a girl.
Kacie recalled thinking as the ultrasound got under way, "Please, please, please let there be a boy in there."
Joseph Maxwell and Sophie Rose were born on April 27, weighing 7 pounds, 10 ounces and 6 pounds, 7 ounces.
Their family of 7 children now includes Hannah, 10, and Grant, 9, from Kacie's previous marriage; Gabrielle, 5, and twin girls, Jacqueline and Jordan, 3; and now little twins Max and Sophia.
This is the first case of boy/girl MicroSort twins I've come across, besides my own. (Like Kacie, I also didn't find out I was having twins until well into pregnancy -- 20 weeks, in fact!) Perhaps they wonder, like me, whether having boy/girl twins was just a statistical chance, or whether there was such a strong predisposition to having one gender, overwhelming odds were needed to overcome it to have just one baby of the opposite gender. We'll never know. ;-)
Happy 4-month-birthday to twins Sophia and Max, and best wishes to all of the Dawe family!
Feeling disappointed in the gender of your baby, although common, is "rarely talked about, is discussed in a ‘cone of silence’ (if at all) and those who have feelings of gender disappointment are usually desperate to find people whom they can trust, to talk about the strong, real emotions they experience." An article on Australia's BellyBelly discusses causes and emotions in gender disappointment.
“When I found out Joshua was a boy at the ultrasound I was disappointed – disappointed and he was healthy and growing beautifully! How could I even think it?? I have hated myself for that. I look at him now and I just love him so much, how could I ever have been disappointed? I would lie to people, pretending to be so excited that I was going to have two little boys when in fact I had hope that the ultrasound was wrong. I would put on my happy face and say, “I always wanted two little boys!” or “As long as it is healthy we don’t care what it is.” Imagine if I had said, “Well I really was hoping for a girl and I am disappointed that it’s not, but I guess I will learn to deal with it.’ What sort of a mother thinks like this?”
See also my Gender Disappointment
page with links to other articles and forums about feelings of being disappointment with your baby's gender.
Last year, Australian mums hoping to choose their baby's gender got a shock when the Australian Health Ethics Committee banned the use of IVF for family balancing.
Today, Australian fertility specialists are calling for a review of the ban, calling a similar review of sex selection options in the UK "refreshing and encouraging".
Sex selection is not done lightly and when it was done it was always for family balancing reasons.
I find it interesting that if you go to a dinner party and a pregnant woman and her partner with three boys are there and they announce they are having a girl, everyone is delighted for them. No one accuses them of devaluing their sons.
If the technology is used responsibly, we should allow people to make their own reproductive choices, and the Government should get out of the bedroom.
Darling Marie was the only girl in a family with EIGHT sons. Each of those sons went on to have large families of their own, having mostly boys -- Donny has 5 boys, and Alan has 8 boys.
I have several articles on this site dealing with the odds of having a boy or a girl. Statistically, your odds of having a boy or a girl do not change, regardless of how many boys or girls you've previously given birth to. And a statistical study has shown that having boys or girls doesn't run in the family.
But you have to wonder -- 8 boys and 1 girl?
(Now I know you're saying, Maureen, there were only 6 Osmonds, being of course Wayne, Merrill, Jay, Donnie, Alan, and Little Jimmy. There were actually two older brothers, Virl and Tom, who were born nearly deaf; a cruel twist of irony.)
Take a look at their children (in order of most boys):
- Alan: 8 boys
- Donny: 5 boys
- Virl: 5 boys, 2 girls
- Merrill: 4 boys, 2 girls
- Tom: 4 boys, 3 girls
- Jay: 3 boys
- Wayne: 3 boys, 2 girls
- Jimmy: 2 boys, 2 girls
Three sons had ONLY boys, the rest had more boys than girls, except Jimmy, who had 2 of each. None had more girls than boys. The total? 34 boys to 11 girls, or 75% boys.
(Marie also has 8 children, 5 of whom are adopted, but I couldn't find their genders.)
Usually, when I hear someone talking about how boys "run in the family," they're mentioning cases of 2 boys here, 3 or 4 boys there. But this is a sample of 45 kids!
Alan's sons perform together as the "Osmonds 2nd Generation", and the 4 youngest sons have recorded albums as "The Osmond Boys". Where do I buy a lunchbox?!
Are you a mom of all boys? Take a peek into the lives of some of your kindred spirits and visit some of these blogging mothers of boys.
Nicola Chenery was the mother of 4 beautiful sons, but longed for a daughter, so much so that she travelled from her home in England to Spain, where medical gender selection for family balancing is allowed. PGD treatment costing $11,000 made Nicola's dream come true: she is now the mum of twin girls.
(The Chenery story was widely publicized in the British press; see links below.)
The Mastertons are a Scottish couple with 4 sons who wanted a daughter, after their only daughter Nicole died tragically at the age of 3. After trying in vain to persuade the UK government to permit them to use sex selection, the Mastertons went abroad and spent more than $50,000 on three IVF with PGD attempts, but failed to become pregnant. The Mastertons have given up their quest for a daughter, saying "time has run out for us biologically," but continue to support those seeking reproductive choice in the UK.
“I haven’t heard a valid argument yet to deny people that choice. People contact us constantly; most are partaking in infertility tourism.
“Seven couples that we know are going abroad this week, mostly to the United States. Their eggs will be harvested, fertilised, left for 48 hours, undergo testing and then implanted if they are the right sex.
“The technique costs about $20,000 (£11,000). We know of one couple who went four times and were successful on their fourth attempt
High tech gender selection for family balancing is prohibited
in the UK, but is it possible that could change? Today the United
Kingdom's Department of Health launches a public consultation to learn
the public's views on sex selection and other issues related to
assisted conception technologies. The consultation is part of a
review aimed at reforming regulations established 15 years ago by the
Human Fertilization and Embryology Act (HFE Act).
Below are excerpts from the
review document dealing with gender selection. See the links at
the end of this article to learn more and find out how to send your own
opinion to the UK Department of Health. The deadline is November 25th.
5.28 The HFE Act does not prohibit sex selection of embryos. Sex
selection using PGD is subject to regulation by the HFEA. Currently the
HFEA only allows sex selection to avoid sex-linked disorders such as
5.29 Sex selection using new “sperm sorting” procedures is not
covered by the HFE Act. The question of whether “sperm sorting” should
be brought within the HFE Act is dealt with in paragraphs 2.33 to 2.37
5.30 In 2002/03 the HFEA undertook an extensive public consultation
on the issue of sex selection. This included written consultation,
discussion groups, and a MORI survey of 2,000 people representative of
the UK population. This found strong public opposition to sex selection
for non-medical reasons.
5.31 The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, however,
considered the issue of sex selection and found no adequate
justification for prohibiting the use of sex selection for family
balancing – that is, where a family already have children of one gender
and wish to ‘balance’ their family with a child of the other gender.
This was on the basis that family balancing would be unlikely to result
in harm to society through an overall gender imbalance. Some countries
such as Belgium and Jordan allow sex selection for non-medical reasons.
Others such as Israel allow non-medical sex selection only for family
5.32 The Government seeks views on sex selection for non-medical
reasons. In particular, should this be banned? Or should people be
allowed to use sex selection techniques for family balancing purposes
as the Science and Technology Committee suggest? If so, how many
children of one gender should a couple already have before being
allowed to use sex selection techniques to try for a child of the other
The following section deals
with sperm sorting techniques, which would include Ericsson and
MicroSort. These techniques are currently permitted in the UK, as
long as no embryos are created, meaning that use with IVF is not
2.33 The HFE Act currently regulates the storage and donation of
gametes and embryos, and the creation and keeping of embryos outside
the body. It does not however regulate the use of a couple’s own
gametes for treatments which do not involve either storage or the
creation of embryos outside the body. This means in practice that
certain techniques – such as methods of artificial insemination where
sperm is used without being stored – do not come within the scope of
regulation, and therefore do not currently require a licence. These
techniques include gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) and
intrauterine insemination (IUI).
Hallelujah! Charlie Whitaker, a toddler ill with a rare and life-threatening blood disorder, has been pronounced cured after receiving a transplant of the umbilical blood from his brother Jamie. Jamie was conceived using PGD, a technique which uses genetic screening to choose a tissue-matched embryo. The Whitakers were forced to travel from Britian to the US for PGD treatment, after the UK government heartlessly refused to permit the use of PGD in their case.
May the Whitaker family continue to enjoy the blessing of health and every happiness!
A health official hopes to stop Canadian sales of the Acu-Gen Baby Gender Mentor test, which claims to reveal an unborn baby's gender as early as 5 weeks into pregnancy.
"To take a product which is not regulated by the province, which the province has had no testing over, and to base potentially vital health decisions on it is, we don't believe, a wise course," said George Abbott, British Columbia's Health Minister in today's Vancouver Sun, referring to the possibility that a woman might decide to terminate a pregnancy under false information.
Abbot plans to convey his concerns to his federal counterpart this week, in hopes of putting regulations in place to stop the product's sale.
Blogger Jennifer Creer is happy to put the job of baby-raising behind her after having three sons ("Oy vey! The work!"). But she wonders, "is it just that I am now married that people ask if I am going to have a baby, or am I really missing out by not having a daughter?"
As one comment put it, having all boys is just fine; "Kids aren't like Pokemon, no need for me to 'collect em all!'"
How do you feel about it?
Undergoing IVF is no vacation, but that's the reason a growing number of couples are heading to California. Because California permits many procedures that are regulated or prohibited in other countries, such as egg donation and surrogacy, couples from around the world flock to California in hopes of bringing home a baby as a souvenir.
Medical gender selection is banned in nearly every country in the world except the US. Huntington Reproductive Center in Los Angeles is one of the largest IVF centers on the West coast, and is a destination for couples around the US and around the world who hope to use MicroSort sperm separation to choose their baby's sex.
But while California may be attractive from a legal perspective, how does the US compare to other countries in terms of cost for IVF? The July issue of Wired magazine compared the cost of IVF worldwide; it turns out, you'll pay a premium to get pregnant in the US.
Religious scholars in Egypt recently condoned the use of sex selection techniques for Muslims, although only under certain conditions. While scholars of the Qur'an believe that intervening in the fertilization of an egg to determine the baby's gender defies God's will, others note that the Prophet Zakaria prayed for God to endow him with a son.
However, everything is contingent upon God’s will. If somebody wants to have a son, his dream would not be fulfilled unless God destines him to have a son
More Posts Next page »