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The Continuing Commercialization of Sex Selection

Genetic Crossroads
April 9th, 2004

The commercialization and mainstreaming of social sex selection continue to gather force. A Newsweek cover (January 26, 2004) featured two blonde babies, one diapered in pink, the other in blue. They were accompanied by the headline, "Girl or Boy? Now You Can Choose. But Should You? The New Science of Sex Selection."

The Newsweek story, titled "Brave New Babies," describes the use of services now being marketed to allow prospective parents to pre-select a boy or a girl simply because that's what they want-and to do so before getting pregnant. Sex selection using either embryo screening (known as pre-implantation diagnosis, or PGD), or an experimental sperm-sorting method that is being offered under the trademarked name MicroSort, does not require aborting a fetus of the "wrong" sex.

Though Newsweek notes that these procedures not only "answer prayers" but also "raise some troubling questions," its pictorial and narrative focus is on happy couples who have availed themselves of "the new science of sex selection" and who are satisfied with the results. See:
http://msnbc.msn.com/id/3990134/

The Wall Street Journal recently covered social sex selection not as a news story but as a consumer item. A column on the paper's Personal Health page ("Boy or Girl? Stacking the Deck," March 30, 2004) lists a number of do-it-yourself sex selection kits for which "the science behind the claims is scanty," as well as the MicroSort method. It warns of the time, effort, and cost of sex selection, but doesn't mention any social or ethical concerns.

A front-page story in the San Francisco Chronicle ("Parents bypassing doctors to sneak a peek at baby," April 7, 2004) reported on "prenatal portrait studios" that are "geared to be family fun." The article's emphasis is on warnings by the FDA and a number of doctors about the potential risks of ultrasound procedures in a non-medical setting. Yet it lists websites for retail "prenatal portraits in the Bay Area," without providing any references for further information about those risks. It implies that determining the sex of a fetus is a major motivation for obtaining a "keepsake ultrasound," but doesn't explicitly mention selecting sex. See:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/04/07/MNGLL61MJM1.DTL

That issue is raised in an accompanying Associated Press article, "Choosing baby's gender at home: Sex-selection kits sold on Internet blasted as snake oil." The story, which was reprinted in dozens of US newspapers, quotes bioethicist Arthur Caplan, who contrasts "legitimate" sex selection methods like MicroSort and PGD to the do-it-yourself kits. The reporter notes that these "legitimate" methods "have raised ethical concerns about designer babies and gender bias." See:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/news/archive/2004/04/06/national1422EDT0595.DTL

See also:

newsletter Marcy Darnovsky, "Sex Selection Goes Mainstream," Alternet (September 25, 2003)
http://www.alternet.org/story/16837/

newsletter Marcy Darnovsky, "Revisiting Sex Selection," GeneWatch (Jan-Feb 2004); available here.  Original version at http://www.gene-watch.org/genewatch/articles)/17-1darnovsky.html


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