Genetic Testing and Sex Selection: The Messenger and the Message

This story was on the front page of the NYTimes (and doubtless a lot of other places a couple of days ago.   There’s a new over-the-counter genetic test that allows you to determine fetal sex at seven weeks.  It’s part of the general march of technology that makes a lot of people (sometimes me included) nervous.

What people worry about with this particular technological advance is the use of abortion for sex selection.   Women have a right to elect abortion at seven weeks.   (And if you’re wondering, I’m committed to that right.  I know other people disagree, of course.)   I’m prepared to assume that for some women it is easier to elect abortion early on in the process.   And so there may well be more abortions where sex-selection is at least part of the picture.

There’s something very disturbing about sex selection.   It’s generally selection of males over females, of course.   The statistics for some of the national populations where sex selection is practiced are pretty astonishing.   Significantly more men then women.    Many people apparently agree it is better to have sons.

But this, it seems to me, is where the trouble lies.  The technology–in this case the simple blood test–is just the messenger.   It’s just a source of information.   The real problem, it seems to me, is that males are valued more highly than females.   Barring a test (or barring abortion for sex selection for that matter) doesn’t really attack the root problem.   And I’m doubtful you can effectively bar the practices of sex selection.

I’m not suggesting it would be easy to change things so that daughters are as highly valued as sons.  But that’s where the real work lies as far as I am concerned.

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One response to “Genetic Testing and Sex Selection: The Messenger and the Message

  1. In America, parents who use sex selection (by IVF with PGD or Sperm Sorting) seem to favour daughters. Figures like 80% are sometimes quoted for parents who use Microsort. In China and India sex selection is outlawed, but it is obvious from the skewed sex ratio that it takes place and that it favours sons.

    However, it would be premature to conclude that Americans value daughters more highly than sons. The success rate for Microsort is much higher for girls (90%) than for boys (75%) so presumably there are more parents who want daughters, among the customers.

    In China the vast majority of the population is without a pension scheme and rely on their sons and daughter in laws to support them in old age (the daughters leave the family when they marry). There is some evidence of sex selection against boys if the couple already have a son. It is not as aggressive as the sex selection against girls (when there is no son), but indicates that the bias against girls is not just a question of which gender is valued more highly.

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