[Health Impact News] Tom Kisken of the Ventura County Star wrote an article this week discussing the practice of parents choosing the gender of their babies using a controversial in vitro procedure. He highlighted the story of a family that had given birth to three boys and wanted to be sure their fourth child was a girl. He brings up some of the controversial topics surrounding this practice, noting that gender selection like this is banned in Canada, Great Britain, Australia and “several other countries” but legal in the U.S.  He noted some of the ethical concerns regarding the practice:

Ethicists, however, worry that choosing a baby’s sex can bring gender inequity, citing China, where laws limiting families to one child mean parents sometimes abort pregnancies in which the fetus is female. Critics worry, too, about using genetics for purposes beyond minimizing the risk of illness.

“I think it’s a bad idea,” said ethicist Miriam Piven Cotler, visiting professor at the Bioethics Institute at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “It’s part of a larger question: What are the limits beyond which we shouldn’t go to dictate what kind of children we want? It’s this general notion that children are commodities and we can mail-order them.”

DNA analysis of human embryos are also currently used to determine vulnerability to illnesses such as Down syndrome, hemophilia, kidney disease and cystic fibrosis, according to Kisken.

In dealing with these controversies over choosing gender, it would appear that Kisken glossed over perhaps the biggest controversy that results from this description of the process: “The desired embryos are implanted, and the rest are stored or discarded.” “Discarded” is the verb chosen to describe what happens to the embryos not wanted that did not meet the parents criteria for gender. Of course the editorial choice to use this verb communicates the author’s bias that the embryos are not being “killed” or “murdered,” other verbs available to describe what happens, which admittedly would be an editorial choice as well.

He does bring up this topic again later in the article, although coupled together with the ethical issue regarding the definition of a “medical” procedure as defined by the Hippocratic oath physicians take to “do no harm.” He writes:

Other skeptics say the issue revolves around the discarded embryos or cite the role of DNA screening in medicine. “In medicine, you don’t treat preferences. You treat disease,” said Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. “Gender is not a disease. What we’re really talking about is pure preference. At the end of the day, sex is a lousy reason to get a medical procedure.”

Earlier in the article Kisken uses the term “pre-embryo” which itself is a controversial term that only recently entered into our dictionaries. For a more thorough explanation of this issue as a medical procedure and the term “pre-embroyo” see Dr. Edmund Pellegrino’s article “The Pre-Embryo: An Illusory Category Of Convenience” in Pediatrics in Review.

Kisken then gives the reply of Dr. Michael Feinman, medical director of HRC Fertility offices in Westlake Village and Encino in California who earns income from performing these procedures:

“People want it. It’s legal…We feel that family balancing is as much of a reproductive choice as abortion is,” he said. “If we can allow free rein on women to terminate pregnancies, then we should also allow them to have reasonable access to reproductive technologies that will allow them to build the families they desire.”

Kisken’s full article is found here.

See also:

American Eugenics on the Eve of Nazi Expansion: The Darwin Connection