September 22, 2006

The war against gender selection: don't believe the hype

According to a recent study, 9% of U.S. couples who use preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) -- the procedure used to check for potential abnormalities in offspring -- are taking the opportunity to select the gender of their children. These are situations in which the selection of gender was not a medical consideration.

In other words, couples are going about gender selection more frequently than previously thought. The study also indicated that Canadians are going south of the border for to take advantage of this -- a phenomenon that has arisen due to the illegality of gender selection in Canada. Clearly, there's a demand for this -- a demand that many ethicists believe could eventually lead to some social problems.

Also of interest in the study, it was discovered that 23% of clinics are helping couples conceive a child with compatible cord blood to treat an older sibling with a grave illness.

Now, I've written about this a bazillion times before, but it's worth stating over and over again: gender selection in the West is primarily used for family balancing. Given the virtual 2.0 birth rate, many couples desire to have one girl and one boy. Or, given a mother who has had 4 consecutive boys in a row and would like nothing more than to have a baby girl, gender selection offers a sensible solution.

In these scenarios, there's no skewing of the 1:1 gender ratio that our hyper-heterocentric sensibilities are so paranoid of throwing off kilter. Cultural norms and practices in countries like China and India indicate that they are in all likelihood not ready for gender selection. But that's not our problem here in the West where many responsible couples deserve the right to engage in family balancing practices.

And just to throw a wrench into what's generally considered a guaranteed problem, so what if there's a gender imbalance? States could start to offer tax breaks and other incentives to those couples that voluntarily choose to have children of the lesser-desired sex. And as it stands today, not every person ends up with a partner of the opposite sex -- there are a lot of lonely people out there today with little or no chance of hooking up, yet society tends not to care.

Granted, a significant gender imbalance would be a journey into terra incognita (although women in the Soviet Union survived the gender fallout stemming from the war in Afghanistan), it's a stretch to suggest that society will collapse as a result. Taking China, for example, where gender imbalances are starting to tilt appreciably in favour of males, the jury is still out on whether this society will become testosterone driven and terrorized by roving gangs of horny and jaded men. It's also quite possible that such a skew would be self-correcting, with greater value eventually placed the gender in demand; sexism and other cultural attitudes may organically shift.

Essentially, don't believe the hype. Fight for your right to choose the gender of your own offspring!

4 comments:

Martin Striz said...

States could start to offer tax breaks and other incentives to those couples that voluntarily choose to have children of the lesser-desired sex.

In China (where negative gender selection is already practiced through abortion or infanticide) and in other places with strong gender biases, tax breaks have already proven to be useless. You can't change such potent cultural memes with small bribes.

...it's a stretch to suggest that society will collapse as a result. Taking China, for example... the jury is still out on whether this society will become testosterone driven and terrorized by roving gangs of horny and jaded men.

China is a poor test case, since it is subjucated by a powerful state apparatus (similarly, the tribal fueds in Iraq remained latent under Saddam Hussein). In a freer society, there could be bigger problems, but since free society tend on average not to have strong gender biases (other than India), the point is moot. Gender selection is already illegal in India.

George said...

I'm curious, Martin -- are you for or against gender selection here in the West?

Martin Striz said...

I have no problem with gender selection in principle. As a practical matter, if it were used to bias the sex ratio, it could be dangerous, but I agree with your supposition that that wouldn't happen in the West. I see no reason why it shouldn't be permitted in the West.

Good Guy said...

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