Because We Can

TAKING TOO MUCH CONTROL OVER CHILDREN

When we hear people talk about gender selection, we usually think of the abortion or the abandonment of baby girls in places like China, as a result of repressive government policies. But our thinking may have to change. If recent media reports are correct, gender selection could become a hot trend here in America.

According to the January 26 issue of Newsweek, technology is making it possible for couples to choose whether they have a boy or a girl. Hundreds of American couples have already tried what some are calling “family balancing,” and hundreds more hope to try it soon. Reporter Claudia Kalb writes, “Despite considerable moral murkiness, Americans are talking to their doctors and visiting catchy websites [about gender selection].”

“Moral murkiness” indeed. Currently, the most successful method of gender selection is preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD. The technique was created to screen embryos for diseases. Now it’s being used to screen them for gender as well. Doctors create multiple embryos, select a few of the desired gender, and implant them. The rest are frozen, donated, or discarded.

It’s easy to see why PGD is the most controversial method of gender selection. But it’s not just the method that is disturbing; it’s the whole idea. For example, a company called MicroSort screens sperm cells for X and Y chromosomes before the embryos are created. Some people think this does away with the ethical dilemma of disposing of unused embryos. But MicroSort reports that four of its clients had abortions after they found out that their child was the wrong gender after all. That’s what we should expect when we start paying to create children to our specifications.

How have we come to the point of destroying an unborn child simply because he or she isn’t the right gender? Perhaps Newsweek puts it best: “Throughout history, humans have wished for a child of one sex or the other and have been willing to do just about anything to get it. Now that gender selection is scientifically feasible, interest . . . is exploding.”

It’s not that the technology is evil in itself. Technology simply enables humans to do what they have always wanted to do. But it comes along at a time when our moral foundations have eroded so far that we can justify just about anything we want. And science without moral restraints is dangerous.

But there are two things in the article that give me hope. First, it points out that gender selection is already banned in much of Europe, and there’s a chance that a similar law could be passed here that we would need to support.

Second, Newsweek tells the story of one woman who nearly chose gender selection but backed out at the last minute. Note what she told Claudia Kalb: “I don’t think God intended us to do that. We decided we should just pray about it and leave it up to God.” Amen.

It’s good to know that attitude is still alive and well in our country. Let’s hope that more and more people come to realize that just because we can control a child’s gender, that doesn’t mean we should.

For further reading and information:

Claudia Kalb, “Brave new babies,” Newsweek, 26 January 2004. In the same issue, see also the related articles “No Girls, Please” and “One, Two, Three or More?

Visit the Council for Biotechnology Policy’s website to learn more about the latest developments in biotechnology and bioethics.

C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man(1943).

President’s Council on Bioethics, “Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness,” Washington, D.C., October 2003.


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