80 Beats at Discover Magazine has a great summary of the new blood test that lets parents know the sex of their baby as early as 7 weeks into the pregnancy. The highlights:
- At 7 to 12 weeks, the researchers found, the test determined the sex of a fetus with 95% accuracy. At 20 weeks, the test got it right 99% of the time.
- Doctors in Europe regularly use the test if a baby might be at risk for a sex-linked disease. For instance, if a mother carries the gene for hemophilia, a disease that affects males, a son might have the disease but a daughter would be a healthy carrier, like her mother. If the fetus is male, further genetic tests might be necessary to determine if the baby will have hemophilia; if it’s female, they aren’t.
- The upside of the fetal DNA method is that it can reveal gender earlier and with more accuracy than an ultrasound, and without the invasiveness—and thus small risk of miscarriage—of amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling.
- The downside, some warn, is easier gender selection. In parts of Asia, parents’ preference for boys over girls has led to a gender imbalance. Some bioethicists and doctors fear that being able to know a baby’s sex so early in pregnancy would lead to more sex-selective abortions in the US.
Sex selection is, in my analysis, ethically permissible. But just because something is permissible doesn’t mean it makes sense. Outside of family balancing or to prevent some hereditary/genetic disorder, why in the world would you sex select? I mean, I get that cultural prejudices cause people to make stupid decisions, but that’s not so much a reason as it is an excuse. Fears over sex selection are a reflection of a deeper concern over cultural norms around sex and gender. Only a problematic set of systemic cultural values can make sex selection into a problem.
Bioethics is controversial.
No one endorses the ideas or concepts explored here, not even me.
You will develop a strong opinion about something you find here. I want to hear it. Philosophy is a conversation.
popbioethics [at] gmail [dot] com
Long Form ArticlesWhy Mass Effect is the most Important Science Fiction Universe of our Generation