October 2005 - Posts
Some mothers who paid for the Baby Gender Mentor at-home blood test, which claims to detect an unborn baby's gender just 5 weeks into pregnancy, have gotten a lot more than they bargained for.
Pregnant mom Erin Rivera just thought it would be fun to tell her husband, who is stationed in Afghanistan, the gender of their third child. Instead of "fun", Erin got a shock when a call from Acu-Gen's scientific director, C.N. Wang, informed her that additional tests of her blood sample indicated the possibility of chromosomal abnormalities.
I was crying and crying. I never paid him to find that out.
Wang advised Erin to have genetic testing, which would require an amniocentesis to obtain samples of the baby's cells for testing. Because this procedure is expensive and carries a risk of miscarriage, it is only carried out in high risk cases. Following her doctor's advice, Erin decided not to have an amnio, because all other tests indicate that her baby is healthy.
Melissa, another expectant mother, has posted here in the Baby Gender Mentor forum that she, too, got a call from Wang with bad news. Melissa's Baby Gender Mentor test indicated her baby is male, but multiple ultrasounds show that the baby is a girl. After repeated testing, Wang told Melissa that there is "no doubt" her baby has male DNA, but may have a chromosomal defect that can cause malformed genitalia. When the terrified mother asked about the accuracy of this result, she was told only that Acu-Gen's testing is "far more advanced" than other prenatal diagnostics currently available. Rather than enjoying the end of her pregnancy and preparing for her baby girl, Melissa has 10 weeks of agony and worry over her baby's health to endure.
Danielle was also told by Acu-Gen that she should have chromosomal testing performed, after her Baby Gender Mentor result of a boy didn't match several ultrasound exams that showed a girl.
Many other women, who purchased the Baby Gender Mentor test just to satisfy curiosity or to get a head start on decorating the nursery, have found themselves plagued with worries about their baby's health as well. They're asking themselves, "If this gender test is perfect, and 'DNA doesn't lie', what does it mean if Acu-Gen says my baby is a boy but there are no male genitals?" Several have said, "I wish I'd never heard of this test!"
Is this legal?
The question some women are now asking is, why did this lab provide a medical diagnosis when the product is advertised only as a simple gender test?
The US Food and Drug Administration told the company that it did not need approval because the test would not be used for a medical diagnosis.
According to Acu-Gen's C.N. Wang, Boston Globe
Now, however, the test's maker has gone far beyond the original intent, to determine gender only, and has provided a diagnosis on which women might base important healthcare decisions. Faced with the news of a chromosomal or genetic defect, a woman might decide to risk an amniocentesis that would otherwise be deemed unnecessary; worse still, the possibility exists that a woman could choose to terminate a pregnancy based on this "advanced" and supposedly infallible testing.
Yet Acu-Gen has not revealed the methods behind their testing for scientific scrutiny, nor provided any research data that would prove accuracy or provide a false-positive rate. How can a woman's own obstetrician, responsible for the care of mother and unborn baby, have any idea how to evaluate such a claim?
There's no published data as to how well this works. The techniques we used are nowhere near as encouraging as people are being led to believe. It is fraught with potential complications.
Mark Evans, lead investigator of a National Institutes of Health trial on fetal cells in maternal blood
Sometimes you see news that just makes your heart swell for someone you don't even know. Here are two stories about women left infertile by cancer treatment who are now proud mums.
Three sisters and a little baby
In a story to be featured this week in a BBC documentary, a woman is given the gift of motherhood by her two sisters. Alex Patrick says that being rendered infertile by chemotherapy for cervical cancer was more upsetting than the cancer itself. When her sisters learned about her anguish, they stepped in to help. Twin sister Charlotte donated an egg, which was fertilized by Alex's husband's sperm. Sister Helen was the surrogate mother, or "just a tummy mummy" as she put it. One IVF attempt resulted in the healthy birth of son Charlie.
A real one shot wonder
To be successful, IVF treatment usually requires repeated cycles where several embryos are implanted each cycle. Alison Jones and husband Craig had only one embryo to make their attempt at parenthood. Before undergoing chemotherapy to treat her leukaimia, Alison had an egg retrieval so that the couple's embryos could be preserved; but only one egg could be retrieved. Against all odds, the single egg was successfully fertilized, frozen and then thawed when Alison was healthy again. Doctors prepared the couple for disappointment, but amazingly, the single IVF attempt resulted in pregnancy. 7 months later, little Elin was delivered prematurely by emergency C-section when Alison developed pre-eclampsia, but is now home with parents and doing fine. I can only say, there is some very special purpose in store for little Elin.
I held on to my dream of beating the cancer and one day becoming a mum. I kept thinking about that tiny frozen embryo in a deep freeze at the IVF clinic. It helped to get me through.
What is the social impact of parents choosing the sex of a child for family balancing? Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston have launched a study of 50 prospective parents who already have a child of one gender, and hope to use PGD to conceive a baby of the opposite gender. The study will look at the health of the babies and "social factors" as the children grow up.
Since her marriage to Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito in 1993, Princess Masako has endured the scrutiny of a nation awaiting the birth of a son who will be the next Emperor, continuing an unbroken line of succession lasting 26 centuries.
After six years of waiting, a media frenzy erupted with speculation that the Princess was pregnant at last. While being driven to the hospital for an ultrasound, "her car was pursued by a caravan of newspaper reporters, while television cameramen hovered overhead in helicopters". Sadly, the hopes of the public and the Imperial family were dashed as the Princess suffered a miscarriage.
Two years later, a daughter was born to the couple, Princess Aiko. Her birth was publicly celebrated, but threw the royal family into a succession crisis, because by Japanese law only a male can ascend to the throne.
I have to say I was disappointed it was a girl... I hope she gives it another shot, and that next time, it'll be a boy.
Japanese woman on the street, at Princess Aiko's birth
Masako, educated at Harvard and Oxford and fluent in several languages, had a promising career as a diplomat when the Crown Prince asked her to be his wife. She refused, twice, then later shocked her friends by agreeing to join the Imperial family. Now, a dozen years of enormous pressure to produce a male heir and the rigid restrictions of royal protocol have transformed the once vibrant Masako into a shadow of her former self.
[Princess Masako] the American-educated former diplomat has been grappling with a stress-related skin disorder, mental exhaustion and -- by some accounts -- perhaps clinical depression. Headlines and royal watchers portray her as a virtual hostage to her foremost imperial duty: bearing a male heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne, the oldest hereditary monarchy on Earth.
Now Princess Masako is 42 years old, and the chance of having a male child seems less and less likely. In order to continue the institution of the Imperial family, Japanese law may be changing to permit the Crown Prince's daughter to ascend the throne. After a 10 month debate, a government panel has recommended "expanding imperial succession to include females and their descendants". Princess Aiko, who is approaching her 4th birthday, may one day be Empress of Japan.
Although some traditionalists oppose the change, the public overwhelmingly supports a reigning empress: an opinion poll shows 84% are in favor of changing the law to allow a woman to ascend the throne.
A study in Sao Paulo, Brazil found that the birth ratio of females in the city was slightly higher in the most polluted areas of the city compared to the cleanest areas. But if you're hoping for a daughter, don't start packing for Los Angeles (the most polluted city in the US) just yet. The female birth ratio increased by only 1%, and boy births still outnumbered girls.
The margin is very slight, but over the large populations living in the world's polluted cities, it could make a difference. The researchers calculated that in Sao Paulo, 1,180 more boys would have been born if the birth ratio had been the same in the polluted areas as in the clean areas.
Pollution was found to cause larger discrepency in the birth ratio of mice. Mice raised in filtered air had a higher sperm count and higher male birth ratio than mice raised in unfiltered air.
These findings seem to support the idea that Y-bearing (male producing) sperm is more fragile than X-sperm, and under conditions of environmental stress, X-sperm is more likely to survive.
Scotland's colorful newspaper The Sunday Mail reports that Acu-Gen is now "targeting Scotland" with sales of Baby Gender Mentor, an at-home fetal sex test kit.
Previously, numerous news articles about Baby Gender Mentor raised concerns about the test being used for sex selective abortions in countries with a strong preference for boys, such as India and China. At that time, the president of the test's exclusive online retailer, PregnancyStore.com, stated that the kit is available only in the United States.
This firm could be making claims they cannot substantiate, luring people into thinking they have information on which they can act. For some mums and dads, that might only go as far as painting the nursery pink but others may terminate a pregnancy because they believe they are not getting what they want. That's enough of an ethical minefield but what if they were to abort a child they did want?
Glasgow University Professor in The Sunday Mail
An second article features the story of a woman who says her Baby Gender Mentor result is incorrect. Pamela Gold and her husband were told by Acu-Gen that their baby, due in February, is a son. An ultrasound, however, showed a girl, and an amniocentesis later confirmed that the baby is a girl. "I'm in touch with many women who are unhappy with the service this company provides," said Pamela.
Doctors are skeptical about the claims of Baby Gender Mentor to predict a baby's gender just 5 weeks into pregnancy with 99.9% accuracy, because no evidence has been presented by the company to back up the claim. When asked about the details of the 14-year Acu-Gen trial that predicted the gender of 20,000 babies with 99.9% accuracy, Acu-Gen's president responded:
The accuracy is based on correlation studies between two technology platforms with validated data from actual births spanning more than a decade.
Acu-Gen president C.N. Wang
It's not clear to me that "correlation studies between two technology platforms" means that "the gender Acu-Gen predicted matched the gender of the baby when it was born 999 times out of 1,000" but perhaps that's what he's getting at.
It's really too bad the details of this study aren't available, because there must be so much interesting information there. For example, how often did a false male result due to a male vanishing twin? And how often was a baby born having male or female DNA, but with malformed genitals making it appear to be the opposite sex? These two possibilities have been suggested to women who have reported that ultrasound views of their baby's genitals don't match the Baby Gender Mentor prediction, yet Acu-Gen's trial seems to prove that these anomalies occurred in no more than .1% of the 20,000 pregnancies studied.
It would certainly be interesting to know whether the women involved in the study had a routine ultrasound during their prenatal care, and its outcome.
Wang says that manuscripts are in preparation to be submitted to peer-reviewed journals, so hopefully we will find the answers to these interesting questions soon.
- Gender Bender
A new test claims it can determine fetal gender as early as five weeks into pregnancy. Doctors are skeptical.
Newsweek, Debra Goldschmidt
It's a learning and adaptation processes for all of us, including myself, including all the women out there.
Dr. C.N. Wang, Acu-Gen Scientific Director
I wonder if any of the women who bought the Baby Gender Mentor test realized they were signing up for a "learning and adaptation process". Acu-Gen claims to have already conducted a study of 20,000 women over 14 years.
An investigation into the sales of Baby Gender Mentor, an at-home DNA test to reveal an unborn baby's gender, is in the preliminary stage, according to the Illinois attorney general. The attorney general's office has not received complaints about the test, although complaints have been filed with the FTC.
Sherry Bonelli, Baby Gender Mentor's retailer, states that the manufacturer has given no refunds, and that the test has been accurate for the four babies born so far.
One mother-to-be of three sons says that although Baby Gender Mentor told her to expect another boy, four ultrasounds indicate a girl is on the way. Another mom expecting a son, according to Baby Gender Mentor, found out through amniocentesis that she is having a daughter.
The Illinois state attorney general has opened an investigation into
sales of the Baby Gender Mentor prenatal DNA gender test by
Our office will be trying to gather information
about the role of the company in the sale of the product and also
whether or not there have been any consumer fraud laws broken.
Illinois attorney general spokesperson on NPR
One Florida couple were told by Acu-Gen to expect a boy, but learned
by amniocentesis that their baby is a girl. The father-to-be was upset
when the result was explained as a "vanishing twin" -- even though a
previous ultrasound had ruled out twins -- and said it was like being
told "you had a baby conceived and it died... I thought that that was
very distressing for them to present it in that way".
NPR reporter Nell Boyce also reveals that complaints about the test have been filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
If you're unhappy with your experience with the Acu-Gen Baby Gender Mentor, a law firm in Portland, Oregon is ready to profit from your misfortune.
However, purchasers of Baby Gender Mentor agree to this statement when buying:
You must understand and agree that any liability of Acu-Gen Biolab Inc. and its counselors shall be limited to the purchase price of this kit and price of the lab service. And you will relinquish Acu-Gen Biolab Inc. and mommy’s thinkin’, inc./PregnancyStore.com and its representatives from all responsibilities, either consequential or non-consequential to this kit and service.
Steve Jobs is the CEO of Apple and Pixar and perhaps one of the most influential leaders in the computer industry. But at his birth, potential adoptive parents passed him by because they wanted a girl.
My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course."
From the stellar commencement address given by Jobs at Stanford in 2005.