Why Allowing Parents to Choose Their Baby’s Gender is Wrong

When I write and speak about the ethical questions raised by reproductive technologies, I do not argue that reproductive technologies are all good or all bad, or that using these technologies is clearly right or clearly wrong. My agenda, rather, is to encourage more robust and informed conversations around these technologies, because the science has developed faster than our cultural conversations around their promise and pitfalls.

But as I’ve researched and discussed the fraught questions around reproductive technologies, I have, of course, developed opinions, one of which is that it is unethical for fertility clinics to offer gender-selection services for nonmedical purposes.

In the U.S., unregulated fertility clinics are largely allowed to do whatever technology allows them to do, so long as clients are willing and able to pay for it.  Anecdotal evidence and clinical data indicate that a growing number of prospective parents are willing to pay to have a baby of their desired gender.

There are two different techniques whereby couples can attempt gender selection: Microsort, a sperm-sorting technique, allows clinicians to sort X-bearing and Y-bearing sperm, and then use the sperm with the desired chromosome to inseminate the mother-to-be. A more accurate, but also more invasive and expensive technique for gender selection is preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). PGD was developed as a way to screen for fatal or debilitating genetic disorders at the embryonic stage; my own experience with reproductive technology involved using PGD to try to avoid passing my genetic bone disorder on to my children. Many American clinics, however, now offer PGD as a way for couples to choose their baby’s gender by choosing only fertilized eggs of the desired gender for implantation in the mother’s uterus.

The United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia all ban the use of PGD for gender selection for nonmedical purposes. PGD for gender selection is only justified if a couple’s family history includes a particular sex-linked genetic disorder; that is, a disorder that predominantly or exclusively affects babies of one gender.

In the U.S., the growing use of technology to bear a child of a particular gender is driven by two different populations. Immigrant families from countries such as India and China use the technology to ensure the birth of the much-wanted boy child. Some U.S. fertility clinics have a history of advertising gender-selection services in foreign language newspapers targeting patriarchal cultures. There is also anecdotal evidence that couples of Indian, Chinese, and African background come to the U.S. from other countries to access gender-selection services.

The other population utilizing gender-selection technology are couples with one or more sons, in which the wife has an intense longing for a daughter. Jasmeet Sidhu, in her Slate article “How to Buy a Daughter,” profiled Megan Simpson, who used PGD to have a girl after having three boys: “[Simpson] had grown up in a family of four sisters. She liked sewing, baking, and doing hair and makeup. She hoped one day to share these interests with a little girl whom she could dress in pink.” Simpson uses highly emotional language in telling her story. After initially using sperm-sorting to become pregnant with her third baby, she “lay in bed and cried for weeks” upon discovering that she was pregnant with another boy. She ultimately decided not to abort her son and turned to PGD to ensure that her fourth child would be a girl.

I have no doubt that Simpson’s anguish was real. But that anguish does not justify use of PGD for gender selection.

Gender selection is bad for women.

Cultural preferences for male children stem from ancient, deep-seated ideals of what makes for stable families and communities. In cultures in which boys are more likely to be educated and employed in stable jobs that earn enough to support a family, families hope for boy children who will eventually contribute to the family’s well-being and care for aging parents. Girls, on the other hand, are perceived as liabilities rather than assets, as they will not have the same possibilities for education and lucrative employment, and might even cost their family money in the form of marriage dowries.

The assumptions behind these ideals no longer hold water in our 21st century global culture. We know, of course, that girls and women are just as capable of succeeding in education and the workplace if given opportunities. Furthermore, a body of research indicates that empowering women in poor communities, such as with microloans for starting small businesses, doesn’t just help individual women, but helps to raise entire families and communities out of poverty. Recognizing that girls and women have the same educational, economic, and cultural potential as boys and men, we cannot justify providing gender-selection services that support false and outdated patriarchal ideals.

Furthermore, a woman who comes to a clinic for help conceiving a boy is likely under pressure from her own and/or her husband’s families, and possibly her husband himself, to do her duty by providing a male heir. In the name of “reproductive choice,” we have allowed unregulated fertility clinics to provide gender-selection services that may, in very concrete ways, undermine individual women’s ability to make childbearing decisions free of coercion.

Gender selection reinforces constricting and false gender roles.

Simpson (the woman profiled in Sidhu’s Slate article) dreams of baking and sharing make-up secrets with her daughter. Liza Mundy, in researching her book on reproductive technology titled Everything Conceivable, noted that, “in the sex-selection chat rooms I looked at, there were lots of women looking forward to dressing little girls in pink outfits and putting pretty bows in their hair.” And as Sidhu noted in researching her article:

Interviews with several women from the forums at in-gender.com and genderdreaming.com yielded the same stories: a yearning for female bonding. Relationships with their own mothers that defined what kind of mother they wanted to be to a daughter. A desire to engage in stereotypical female activities that they thought would be impossible with a baby boy.

The problem, of course, is that little girls don’t always love pink and baking and girl talk and make-up, just as little boys don’t always love dirt and trucks and dinosaurs and football. The relationship between children’s gender and their preferences is not exact, unchanging, or predictable. Why is pink a feminine color and blue a masculine color? Because we say so (at least for today). Do we really want to allow parents in thrall to gender stereotypes to engineer their children for the sole purpose of meeting ephemeral and superficial cultural norms?

I have a daughter who prefers “boyish” colors and toys and clothes, and a boy who prefers “girlish” colors and toys and clothes. I have seen firsthand that non-gender-conforming children’s journeys through the judgment-laden landscape of childhood and adolescence is hard enough even if they have parents who don’t give a hoot whether or not they are interested in mother/daughter manicure sessions. How much harder will this journey be for a little girl who hates baking and make-up and the color pink, but who was conceived for the stated reason of giving her mother a companion in these pursuits?

From my experience with two non-gender-conforming kids, I also know that girls who veer toward boyish things have an easier time than boys who veer toward girlish things. So I’d like to think that all those moms who equate their longed-for daughters with bows and sparkles would rise to the occasion if they ended up with a scabby-kneed, jeans-wearing, Star Wars-loving girl instead. But I’d rather we encourage parents to prepare to embrace whatever child they receive before that child is conceived, rather than down the road when that child becomes capable of expressing her preferences.

The justifications for gender selection are almost purely parent-focused.

Why do I accept the use of PGD to screen for genetic disorders, under some circumstances, but not for gender?

Most of the time, when parents consider using PGD because of a genetic disorder in their family, they consider the needs of everyone who will be affected by that decision, including themselves, their other children, and the child-to-be. In contrast, when parents consider PGD to have a baby boy or girl for nonmedical reasons, they primarily consider their own desires.

For example, when my husband and I contemplated using PGD to have a baby free of my genetic bone disorder, we thought about how having a second child with this disorder (our first child, conceived naturally, had already inherited it) would affect us, our daughter, and our as-yet-unconceived second child. All-too-aware of the particular types of suffering that our bone disorder leads to, we considered whether we had an obligation to protect future children from that suffering. We thought about dozens of other factors, some of which were focused primarily on our needs and desires as parents, and many of which were focused on the needs and desires of our children.

When PGD is used for gender selection, in contrast, the primary needs and desires considered are those of the parents, and perhaps other family members. The essential questions are things like, “What gender child will make our family more secure?” “What gender child will I relate to better?” “What gender child will make me feel that I’ve fulfilled my destiny as a parent?” “What gender child will make my in-laws happiest?” The child’s needs and desires, as an autonomous being who will one day make his or her way in the world outside the nuclear family, are nowhere to be seen.

No one approaches childbearing from a purely selfless standpoint. We all bring our own needs, desires, and hopes to our childbearing, some of which are noble and uplifting, and some of which are self-serving and petty. This is human nature. And, as Huffington Post columnist Lisa Belkin pointed out in a column on gender selection last week, we must be careful not to cut off fruitful conversation by dismissing anyone who considers using reproductive technology as a selfish monsters. The availability of so many reproductive choices can have the beneficial effect of helping us, as individuals and as a culture, to be more thoughtful about the choices we end up making.

As I said in the opening to this post, I have no doubt that Megan Simpson’s tears and anguish over having only boys when she longed for a girl were genuine and heartfelt. This is part of what makes adulthood so painful—we must repeatedly learn to accept that our younger selves’ vision for what our life would be like, and our actual life, often differ in profound, sometimes profoundly difficult, ways.

There is nothing wrong or monstrously selfish about grieving the lack of a longed-for daughter or son. There is much that’s wrong, however, with using ethically, emotionally, medically, and financially fraught technologies in an attempt to fill the hole that such grief leaves behind.

 

 

About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.

  • Dave

    > Why Allowing Parents to Choose Their Baby’s Gender is Wrong

    But if abortion-by-choice is legal, then there is no way to stop it. Go to an ultasound clinic to see the gender of the baby, then go to Planned Parenthood for an abortion, which in the majority of cases worldwide means “if it’s a girl”.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      This is an area I really struggle with, Dave. I am in favor of abortion rights, for reasons I have articulated at length elsewhere so won’t do so here. But I also find abortion as a form of gender selection to be absolutely abhorrent. I have read about some initiatives to make it harder for parents to abort for gender selection, such as withholding prenatal identification of the baby’s gender until the pregnancy is past the time when an abortion would be legal. I’m not sure what the answer to this conundrum is, but it is a conundrum for me.

      • Dave

        > … withholding prenatal identification of the baby’s gender until the pregnancy is past the time when an abortion would be legal.

        Withholding prenatal gender identification is impossible, because women can now do it on their own using inexpensive ultrasound scanners that plug into a USB port on a computer. The cheapest one I’ve seen is $64.

        • Dave

          Here’s how to find an article on the $64 ultrasound scanner: google “$64 ultrasound neasham patexia” without the quotes, and it should be the 1st hit. The blogging software won’t let me post the direct link, maybe because it is too long?

          I think these will become as common as thermometers in home medicine cabinets because you can use them for a lot more than prenatal gender identification (such as looking for kidney stones, broken bones, etc).

          “Ultra-cheap, more portable ultrasound prototype a potential maternal lifesaver”

          “Led by Jeff Neasham, who was inspired to start the research when his own wife became pregnant with their first child, the group has offered an ultra-cheap scanner model that costs less than £40 (or about $64).

          Neasham’s model is about the size of a computer mouse and can be used via a USB plug with any computer manufactured in the last 10 years, which will greatly aid its use in poorer areas and developing countries.”

          • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

            You’re right, of course. Technology is no longer accessible only through gatekeepers. This is the hardest piece of the gender-selection dilemma for me…how to reconcile abortion rights with the fact that some people use abortion for abhorrent reasons, including gender selection.

          • Dave

            > This is the hardest piece of the gender-selection dilemma for me…how to reconcile abortion rights with the fact that some people use abortion for abhorrent reasons, including gender selection.

            I don’t worry about it.

            I think abortion rights are unsustainable because children tend to grow up with roughly the same social views as their parents (e.g. if the parents celebrate Christmas, then the kids are more likely to celebrate Christmas, if the parents celebrate Ramadan, then the kids are more likely to celebrate Ramadan, etc). Since pro-choice women have fewer children than anti-choice women, with each generation the percentage of pro-choice women in the population will decrease until abortion-by-choice will be voted illegal.

            On the other hand, if abortion-by-choice is kept legal, it’s kind of interesting to ask: if people are considered as herd animals, what is the optimal number of girls to abort in order to keep a stable population?

            If each woman is assumed to be able to bear 6 children, then I think the optimal number of girls to abort is about 2/3 of them, so that the final population becomes about 5/6 men and 1/6 women.

            Which makes me wonder: when people today select the gender of their baby, how close do they happen to come to the optimal ratio? I don’t know if people keep statistics on this, but it would be amusing if 5/6 of the people chose a boy, while 1/6 chose a girl.

      • Lauren

        Ellen – I appreciate your honest struggle with the issue of abortion. I am confused, however, that you find abortion abhorrent in some instances, and not in others. Abortion is either a moral evil, or it is not (just as the fact that murder is always intrinsically evil – which, I could even go on to argue that abortion IS murder, but I’ll save that for another time an place). Anyway, if it disgusts you that someone would abort her pre-born child based on gender, would it not also be disgusting that someone would abort her pre-born child because said child is “inconvenient”? When it comes down to it, I find abortion to be the most terrible and tragic choice that any mother can make. I have seen the effects it has on a woman and they are truly detrimental to her emotional and spiritual health, simply because abortion does not make a woman not-a-mother. It makes her the mother of a dead child, and she must forever live with the knowledge of her choice. Abortion does not help women or children; there are many other ethical, healthy solutions to a crisis pregnancy.

        Thank you for your blog post, by the way. I enjoyed the read!

        • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

          Below I link to a post that further explains my views on abortion.

          A few notes based on what you say here: I support abortion rights for a host of reasons (the post I link to explains the main reasons). In doing so, I must accept (if dislike) the fact that some people will use their freedom of reproductive choice badly. I do think it’s abhorrent that someone would have an abortion because her pregnancy s inconvenient. I also know, though, that “inconvenience” is not what underlies many (probably most) abortions, many of which are based rather on very real economic concerns about the ability to care for a child. But a case in which someone uses abortion essentially as birth control because a pregnancy isn’t convenient? Abhorrent without a doubt.

          I am not in favor of all abortions. I’m simply in favor of women’s legal right to have a safe one if she so chooses. I am pro-choice, not pro-abortion.

          In the context of this blog post, I am suggesting that fertility clinics not allow people to select for gender using PGD technology for nonmedical reasons. I am sadly aware, however, that it is not logistically or legally possible for abortion providers to do the same. I wish I had a suggestion for how we could ethically handle that conundrum, but I don’t.

          And actually, we DON’T always consider murder (meaning, one person killing another) to be intrinsically evil. Legally and logically, we perceive the act of someone killing another person differently depending on a whole host of factors related to motive and circumstance. Sometimes it’s murder and deserves the death penalty, and sometimes it’s involuntary manslaughter and deserves a fine or community service, and sometimes it’s not even actionable under the law. I take a similar view with abortion. I consider abortion to be an act that always carries moral weight and that is always a tragedy in some sense. But it’s not always an act of evil. Some circumstances make it less abhorrent than others. Given that it’s impossible to legislate people’s motives, and given the fact that women will have abortions whether it is legal or not, I have decided to err on the side of legal abortion, while working hard to host and contribute to informed conversations about the ethical implications of many kinds of reproductive decisions.

          Here’s a fuller explanation: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thinplaces/2011/11/why-i-am-pro-choice-by-ellen-painter-dollar/

          This post was written in tandem with a post by a pro-life friend and colleague, who wrote a companion post on why she is pro-life, and both of our posts were followed by additional Q&A posts. You can decide how much you want to read…there’s a lot there! Hope it clarifies my position somewhat. And I thank you for reading and commenting!

          A note to you and other readers: I was happy to respond to Lauren’s question and point her and others toward my more extensive writing on why I am pro-choice. But my abortion views being someone tangential to this post, which is focused on use of PGD in a clinical setting, this is all I’m going to say about my abortion views in the comments to this particular post. I will no doubt write about abortion mor in future posts. Because I am aware of how the abortion topic has a way of hijacking comment threads, I would really like to keep the discussion on this post focused on the specific issues I raise in it.

          • Kristen inDallas

            How to solve that conundrum… no abortions after 20 weeks. That’s about when you can start to tell gender, anyway. It also reduces the risk of sentience (ie. pain felt by the fetus). Or you could just make it illegal altogether, but I don’t think taht’s where you were going with this…

          • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

            Yes, I think that might be part of the answer. For many reasons, I believe that legal abortion should be limited to the early weeks of pregnancy, so that would be one way to limit the availability of abortions for gender selection. Of course, other types of prenatal tests in which the fetus’s genome is examined can be done earlier in pregnancy, and looking for an XX or XY chromosome pairing is a foolproof way of determining what gender baby one is carrying.

          • Dave

            > … other types of prenatal tests in which the fetus’s genome is examined can be done earlier in pregnancy …

            Wikipedia says that a “maternal blood sample” test can determine the gender after only 7 weeks, so I imagine that someone will soon patent, or already has patented, a home gender test kit that works like a home diabetes test kit, using a blood drop from a finger-prick.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prenatal_sex_discernment

            “A maternal blood sample for analyzing the small amount of fetal DNA that can be found within it provides the earliest post-implantation test. A meta-analysis published in 2011 found that such tests are reliable more than 98% of the time, as long as they are taken after the seventh week of pregnancy.”

        • Ted Seeber

          I’m very pro-life, but I can answer that question. It is because *OTHER* evils exist that are seen to be worse.

  • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

    I hadn’t considered this as carefully as you, Ellen. Nicely done. It seems to me that if a prospective parent thinks happiness rests in having a child of a specific sex, the person is not ready to have that child at all.

    Tim

    • Dave

      > It seems to me that if a prospective parent thinks happiness rests in having a child of a specific sex, the person is not ready to have that child at all.

      Hmm. Children can have lots of characteristics; why limit the exclusion to gender? If a prospective parent thinks happiness rests in having a child, then that person is not ready to have that child at all. :)

      • Susan Burns

        Children bring happiness. That does not mean that you can’t be happy without them but kids are wonderful.

      • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

        One fundamental argument against the use of any type of screening technology, including IVF, PGD and prenatal diagnosis, is that by giving parents some level of control over their childbearing and what kind of child they have, these technologies chip away at the most basic requirement of good parenting: The willingness to accept and love a child exactly as he or she is, without putting qualifications on what type of child we will accept. I share that concern, although I still uphold people’s right to use certain screening technologies under certain circumstances. I also think that many, many parents go into parenthood for the “wrong” reasons, and that pretty much every parent goes into it for some self-serving reasons. I know I did. This is simply one of those truths of human life that can be hard to live with and accept, and at times can be downright tragic (when parents are so self-concerned that they are awful parents)…but that is unlikely to change as long as God entrusts this world to fallible and flawed humans. And the alternative—instituting rules and tests for who can and cannot become a parent—veers too close to totalitarianism, social engineering, and eugenics.

  • Ted Seeber

    “I have no doubt that Simpson’s anguish was real. But that anguish does not justify use of PGD for gender selection.”

    I’m Catholic pro-life and only came here because of Patheos’s 3.0 upgrade.

    I think this counts as the most pro-life statement I’ve ever heard, regardless of your differences with me on artificial fertility treatments.

    I have NO DOUBT that the anguish that drives the human race to use IVF, contraception, and abortion is VERY REAL. It’s heart wrenching to me that a pregnant mother with three children in tow would be turned away at a soup kitchen for refusing to abort the fourth. It’s inconceivable to me that the same party that supposedly is pro-life in the United States, would refuse to feed the children created by the extra pregnancies (WIC was zeroed out in Ryan’s budget- supposedly a good Cathoic even) .

    But anguish, as you say, is no excuse.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      Thank you so much for drawing attention to this idea, Ted. While I don’t condemn use of fertility medicine across the board, I have many concerns with it. And you’ve touched on a point that is vital: The pain caused by things like infertility, genetic disease, or simply realizing that the family we end up with might not look like the family we always dreamed of is REAL. But suffering does not in and of itself justify the use of any and all technologies to assuage that suffering. My post tomorrow is going to introduce some basic concepts in Christian ethics, and specifically what makes ethical discourse “Christian” in a way that differs from secular ethical discourse. One of the big differences between a Christian world view and a secular world view is how we view suffering and the alleviation of suffering. Christians are called to be compassionate and we must not dismiss people’s suffering. But we believe in a God who can redeem suffering and bring good out of the worst circumstances. We simply cannot make the alleviation or avoidance of suffering the primary consideration in deciding which actions are acceptable and which actions are not.

      Thanks for picking up on this point. I especially appreciate when someone who doesn’t agree with me 100% nevertheless finds some common ground. This is what allows for useful discourse!

  • RuQu

    You overlook a couple of important reasons for wanting to select a child’s gender, as well as make a few assumptions that are certainly true in some cases, but you then generalize out to universal truths.

    1) In most cultures, the surname is passed on through the male line. Is it wrong to desire a male child so your family name and history continues? This wasn’t a problem when people had more kids, but the Western world has reached a point where people are reproducing below the replacement rate (<~2.2 kids per couple). My father had 3 brothers. He is the only son to have any children. He had two sons. If neither of us has a boy, the family name, and history, dies. This is important to some people, and dismissing that cultural and historical importance is quite the imposition of your priorities onto other people.

    2) Genetically, the mother always passes down an X chromosome and mitochondrial DNA. A father passes down either an X or a Y. Genetic lineage is traced via the mitochondrial DNA to trace maternal lines, and the Y to trace direct-male descent. With no male children, that Y variant dies out. Since passing on our genes is the primary biological purpose of reproduction, there is an obvious impetus to desire a male child.

    3) Even people who are pro-choice want to reduce the number of abortions. They are pro-choice, not pro-abortion (as you mention yourself in a previous comment). The most effective way to do that is to minimize the number of unwanted pregnancies. If a couple only wants two kids, and they want a boy and a girl, then choosing the gender at the start is one way to minimize any abortions.

    4) While some people think a fertilized egg not being brought to term is murder, most pro-life people support abortion up to a certain stage. The very early stage used in fertility clinics and PGD is far, far earlier than the cut-offs most people advocate. In this thread alone, 20-weeks was suggested. 1-2 weeks is far earlier than that.

    5) Family discussion is not always coercion. If a husband wants a son, and a wife doesn't have a preference, is it coercion to agree to get PGD?

    6) Your argument about the educational/career opportunities of women doesn't really factor into this discussion. This technology is sufficiently expensive as to be outside the range of feasibility for most Americans. According to http://ivfcostcalculator.com/index.html it would cost ~$18,800 for my wife and me to get IVF using her eggs, my good sperm, and PGD. Consider that the median household income in America is $51k, and that cost is outside the range of more than half of the country. It is certainly not an option for the poorer parts of the world where job/education opportunities for women are severely limited.

    7) All of the risks of coercion and over-valuing of male children have existed for millenia before this technology, and will continue to exist. If a family/husband really wants a male heir, and the wife keeps having daughters, what is to stop the family/husband from pressuring her into having yet another child until a son is produced? Is it somehow better for the woman to go through repeated pregnancies and childbirths? The health risks are far lower on the woman if she gets PGD than if she just keeps having child after child, and the decreased number of children increases the resources available to each child and increases the career opportunities for the woman.

    I would argue that gender-selection is a net positive for the woman in terms of protection from coercion, protection of her health, and increased educational and career opportunities. It also allows a family to achieve their reproductive goals in the safest way possible, and does so without resorting to any abortion past the blastocyst stage, which is acceptable to the vast majority of the population and inherent in all IVF. In fact, the only ethical problem with gender-selection is that it is only available to a tiny portion of the population, upper-middle class Westerners or above.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      While you raise some interesting points from a cultural standpoint, keep in mind that I’m writing from a Christian viewpoint. In a Christian world view, the primary goal of reproduction is not to pass on one’s genetic material. It is to allow the gift of life to arise from the love of two people. It is a bodily reminder of how we were created out of God’s love. Also in a Christian world view, one’s “reproductive goals” are irrelevant. What one wants as a parent (to pass on a family name or genetic material, to have one boy and a girl) treats children as products that we procure on our own terms, rather than as gifts we receive as they are given.

      “While some people think a fertilized egg not being brought to term is murder, most pro-life people support abortion up to a certain stage. The very early stage used in fertility clinics and PGD is far, far earlier than the cut-offs most people advocate.” – That’s actually not so. Many pro-life folk are anti reproductive technology, in large part because of the necessary manipulation/discarding/destruction of embryos (fertilized eggs, from their earliest existence onward) that it involves. And they certainly don’t support abortion up to a certain stage. If that were so, then abortion would not be the divisive cultural issue that it is! Trust me on this one–I have been flamed by plenty a pro-life Christian for the fact that I don’t universally condemn repro tech and accept legal abortion up until a certain stage.

      From a purely cultural/logical standpoint, you make some interesting points, if you accept cultural norms that say that reproduction is purely a private decision between couples, and that parents do not have ethical and moral obligations to the wider community or to the tenets of their religious faith. Many of your observations just don’t jive with the world view that I and many of my readers hold.

      • RuQu

        I concede that if we are only talking within a Christian community, my points might not hold.

        Accepting this as a purely Christian discussion, however, raises a couple of far more concerning issues with your conclusion, which share common cause – universal application.

        1) What of non-Christian cultures? One of your arguments against this technology was that some cultures strongly prefer male children. One example would be the Chinese, who are not typically Christian. If you are okay with imposing laws based on interpretation of Christian principles/scripture on them, are you okay with the reverse? Should America ban alcohol because the Koran forbids it? Since cows are sacred to Hindus, should the rest of the world sign a treaty with India to stop all slaughter and consumption of cattle?

        2) More generally, you talk of outlawing the procedure and make an argument against it. You then specify that this argument is Christian specific. How then do you justify legislating your religion to apply to non-Christian citizens? If you are comfortable with the idea of imposing your religion through law, would you then also support the rights of Hindus to lobby for the outlawing of beef, Jews to outlaw shops being open on Saturday, or Muslims to insist America outlaw alcohol (again)?

        There are also logical flaws in your combined statements. If children are “gifts we receive as they are given,” how do you justify the choice to screen against your own bone disease? Is that not a “gift” as well? Perhaps it is the Divine Plan that you and your descendants learn from the hardship it imposes, or perhaps it is a punishment, like Original Sin, deriving from some familial mistake in the past? Either way, once you accept the ability to reject the “gift,” how do you justify curtailing that option for others? I realize you address this in your original post, stating that it is a concern about the child not just your own desires, but that is a rationalization that is inconsistent with the belief that all life is a Divine Gift. You are declaring life a gift to be accepted, and then crafting terms by which you consider it okay to reject it.

        As for pro-life, I suppose that is a matter of choice of definition. Some people are pro-life, but allow exceptions for rape, incest or health of the mother. Others allow no exceptions. Some people think abortion is okay to a certain point, but no further and, if that point is earlier than the current laws, they may get defined as pro-life for their support of further abortion restrictions. The larger point is that the loss of a blastocyst is, to many but not all, not on the same moral level as the loss of a fetus, so it is morally preferable to get PGD than to have a 7-20 week abortion for gender selection. Our argument here would be over the definitions of “most, some and many,” but I think we both agree that some people consider it murder from fertilization on, and others set the benchmark at one of many later points. Except for the “it’s all murder” camp, PGD is earlier than any of those other benchmarks.

        (Note: I appreciate the response and realize you may not have time to answer all the questions I ask. If I had to choose, the two numbered ones at the top are of far more importance to me than discussion on definition of pro-life or the ability to reject a divine gift)

        • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

          OK, I’m finally getting around to responding to these questions. Thanks for your patience!

          First: Am I implying that Christianity/Christian values ought to dictate secular U.S. law? No. Of course my Christian faith informs how I approach this issue, just as my faith informs how I approach any legal, social, or political issue, but I don’t want to live in a theocracy. Nevertheless, the United States was founded on some ideals that are consistent with Christian ideals, particularly the worth, dignity, and equality of every person (although we have obviously not always done a great job of reflecting that ideal in our law and culture). I see gender selection as an assault on the dignity, worth, and equality of every person, because it reduces a child from an individual with dignity and rights of his/her own, based solely on his/her identity as a human being, to an expression of his/her parents’ “reproductive goals.” It reduces a child from something that is worthy of respect and dignity simply by nature of what/who it is to being a product that can be manipulated to suit other people’s preferences. Eventually, the U.S. outlawed slavery because we recognized that, despite slaveowners’ very reasonable and understandable economic goals, the practice of one human being using another human being for his/her own purposes goes against the American ideal of all people as created equal. Likewise, I’m arguing that no matter how reasonable and understandable a couples’ reproductive goals, we ought not allow one human being to manipulate and use another human being in this way that fails to adequately value that other human being as worthy and dignified.

          Second: I completely agree that the same problem comes up when we’re talking about using PGD to screen for disability. It is possible for parents to use PGD to screen for a disability for reasons that are completely self-serving and thus fail to see their potential child as worthy of dignity and respect as a fellow human. It’s more than just possible; it happens. However, I have been privy to the stories of a number of parents who have chosen to use PGD to screen for disability. And in many of these cases, the parents DO recognize their potential child as a being of independent worth and dignity, apart from their goals as parents (to have a healthy child). And indeed, one motivation for using PGD to screen for disability is to look at how the suffering associated with a particular disability can be so limiting, so severe that parents choose to screen out of a desire to spare their child a lifetime of suffering. People may agree or disagree as to whether a child’s potential suffering is a worthy reason to use PGD. I’m not saying it is or isn’t worthy, only that at least it shows parental interest in their child as an independent, equal, worthy human being, rather than simply a product that they desire to achieve their own goals.

          As for my own story, I’m not at all sure that my decision to use PGD was justifiable or not. Nor am I at all sure that my eventual decision to abandon PGD was a good or bad decision from a moral/ethical standpoint. The question of whether ANY and EVERY use of PGD commodifies our children to an unacceptable extent is an open question to me. The goal of my exploration of repro ethics, and of my own and others’ stories, isn’t to advocate for or against PGD screening for disability. It’s to advocate for better and more informed conversation around these most complex and difficult questions.

          I will say that I absolutely reject the idea that my disability is part of the divine plan. I’ve written about that extensively elsewhere so won’t rehash it here. But a God who operates that way is not a God I could worship. Rather, I see my disability (and all illness and disability) as outward signs of the way in which the world is broken and is not as God created it to be.

          I hope this clarifies things to some extent. Thanks again for being patient with my response.

  • Dave

    Hi Ellen, I’m not expecting any response to this, I’m just filing it here because it was in the news today and it has some numbers on what percentage of people select boys vs. girls.

    http://www.worldmag.com/2012/09/boy_crazy

    “Boy crazy: The United States is a new mecca for parents who choose their baby’s sex”

    “Steinberg admitted his clinics have recently seen a “huge growth” of Chinese clients. Almost all of them—98 percent—ask for a boy.”

    • RuQu

      Worth noting in that article that the process costs $45,000 at that clinic. The median income in America is $51,000, so this process costs 88% of the amount of money that half of Americans make less than per year.

      It’s also worth pointing out that the foreigners come here for the process because it is illegal in their countries. The solution the poor Chinese use for gender selection: infanticide of female newborns.

  • Dissenting Voice

    I’m not against using PGD for gender selection. I want more children but won’t have them because of a hereditary problem in our family that happens only with boys in my family (current in over 85% of the males in my family), so I can’t risk having another boy and putting them through that. At the same time, if I could afford PGD, I’d do it because I’d love to have more children. And if people want to do it for other reasons, I’m fine with that, too. I don’t care so long as the parent takes care of their children and loves them and doesn’t abuse them. I’d prefer PGD over abortion any day (not that I am anti-abortion) but gender selection could lower abortion rates, for reasons already indicated.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      Thanks for sharing your experience here! I do want to clarify that I am not against use of PGD in families with a history of genetic conditions (such as my own), and see gender selection due to the presence of a sex-linked disorder differently than I do gender selection purely for parental and/or cultural preference. I think there are cautions and concerns to be discussed with any use of PGD, but also feel that the technology was rightly developed to address the presence of disabling genetic conditions, not to allow parents to have the gender child they desire. As a number of physicians/researchers involved in developing PGD technology have said, “gender is not a disease.”

  • Cheyanne

    Hey Ellen,
    I’m a freshmen in highschool and I;m doing a paper on this,
    I have strong feelings about the subject is there any other books you did on this topic? I would love to know helps alot.
    Thanks,
    Cheyanne

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      The book I’ve written deals with reproductive technology and genetic screening broadly, mostly screening for genetic disorders, though it does address gender screening in a number of places. It is called No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Parenthood, and Faith in an Age of Advanced Reproduction. Good luck on your paper. I’m always glad when young people are taking up these difficult and important topics.

  • миша кохт

    Baby)gender determination before birth and conception. Baby gender determination by photo of parents only. To do this I have an account and a group on Facebook. The group is called Baby gender by parents photo

  • http://www.donloper.com/ Joshua Steimle

    Regardless of my position on this issue, I am troubled by the line “Do we really want to allow parents…” My inclination whenever I hear words like this, regardless of what comes after the … is to ask “Whose business is it what parents do?” Ok, if parents are murdering or torturing their children, then that’s one thing. But gender selection hardly seems tantamount to violating any individual’s natural rights.

    More troubling for me is that when we ask whether we want to allow someone to do something, the “we” usually turns out not to be you and me, but the government. And once we set up the framework for the government to decide what others can and cannot do, it’s often difficult to keep the government from deciding what you and I can do. And we only have ourselves to blame for giving the government that power. If we want to freedom to be allowed, as parents, to raise our families as we see fit, the price of that freedom might be allowing other parents to create and raise their families as they see fit, even if we disagree with their methods.

    • http://ellenpainterdollar.com/ Ellen Painter Dollar

      You raise a really important point. While I am absolutely opposed to gender selection, I’m not actually convinced that making it illegal (disallowing it) is a good thing. In general, I think it’s a very, very bad idea for anyone to decide what reproductive decisions are and are not okay (which is a fundamental reason why I am pro-choice). When it comes to how we use modern reproductive technologies ethically, I’d much rather come at it from a cultural perspective…work toward ending discrimination against women and people with disabilities, etc….rather than enacting laws.


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