June 22, 2007

Canadian couples discover sex selection loophole

It's funny how we pick our battles. While I try to focus on some of the more important social issues facing Canadians, there are some minor annoyances that will get a rise out of me every time.

One of these 'annoyances' is the struggle for parents to earn the right to select the gender of their offspring. Sex selection is currently illegal in Canada. Both parents and complicit doctors face hefty fines and potential jail terms should they break the law. I've argued on many previous occasions why I think parents deserve this right, so I'll spare you the drill.

But now it appears that Canadian couples have discovered a loophole (aside from trips to the United States where it's sanctioned).

Mail-order kits

I read with some interest recently of how some Canadian couples are using a mail-order kit to determine the sex of a fetus early in pregnancy for the purpose of selective abortion. A relatively inexpensive blood test can analyze fetal DNA for the presence of the male Y chromosome, allowing the gender to be determined as early as five weeks into a pregnancy. The manufacturer, a British company called DNA Worldwide, claims an accuracy rate around 95% (which is amazingly high).

They ship on average 2 kits to Canada per week and have no way of determining how couples use the information revealed by the test.

Ethical issues

This prompted the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to decry the use of early gender tests for 'selective abortion.'

"The SOGC remains firmly against the practice of sex selection through selective abortion," Dr. Don Davis, the group's president, said in a release. "These new technologies are finding their way to Canadian women and are opening the door to a number of ethical questions."

The group sees the procedure as being discriminatory.

Spurious claims

The SOGC's position raises the question: discriminatory against whom? In Canada, where abortions are legal, the issue of non-personhood during early gestation seems have been settled. Surely the SOGC is not suggesting that a 5 week old fetus can be discriminated against.

I realize that the argument against gender selection transcends the womb as a potential social issue. There is fear that Canadians will use selection technologies to favour one gender over the other, much like what is happening in China and India.

Of course, we don't live in China or India, nor have we retained outmoded perspectives on gender. Just as importantly, and while not yet perfect, the potential socioeconomic disadvantages of gender have been greatly reduced in the West. There is no good reason to significantly favour one gender over the other in Canada.

Without a doubt, Canadian couples would use sex selection as a means to ensure family balancing -- which in today's two-kids-per-couple Canada translates to -- *aghast* -- an equal distribution of one girl and one boy.

Going against demand

Arguments against sex selection don't hold up against deeper scrutiny. Charges of discrimination and fears of societal collapse as a result of a skewed gender ratio are hallucinatory. This is a law that most certainly needs to be reconsidered.

Moreover, Canadian couples are quite clearly showing a demand for sex selection. Even though no statistics or evidence were provided, the SOGC was clearly alerted by something -- otherwise, why the public statement?

I know from personal experience that Canadians want this. Every time I pen an article about sex selection my inbox fills up with sympathetic and supportive e-mails. Many of the letters bemoan the paternalistic nature of the law -- it's as if Canadians can't be trusted with their own reproductive choices.

In this case, where no harm is being done, and where Canadians have clearly indicated demand, it's high time that this law be repealed.

1 comment:

judson said...

This will probably be more common, it's a fairly simple test actually, a company in the US does it also (at least one) http://www.geneticstesting.com/gendertest/gendertest.htm

It's one of those tests that doesn't do anything really diagnostic and so it took a little while to catch on since it only makes sense for for-profits. You really only can tell gender, so for actual research it's not so great. Give it a while though. The problem is separating the maternal and fetal DNA, once that happens full genetic testing could be this easy.