Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Most people favor reproductive technologies -- but not sex selection

A recent poll conducted in 15 countries by the BBVA Foundation shows that citizens in the developed world are largely in support of assisted reproductive technologies. In particular, most people polled were very much in support of in vitro fertilization, a technique used to help couples with fertility problems (scoring over 7 points on an acceptance scale from 0 to 10). At the same time, however, there was strong disapproval for using the technique to choose a baby's gender, with scores consistently showing below 3 points.

In fact, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) -- a genetic test that can be carried out on the embryos obtained from artificial fertilization in order to select those to be implanted in the uterus of the future mother -- scored much higher in acceptance than sex selection. But that said, when it was considered as a technique to screen for gender, PGD was flatly rejected for that purpose.

What is it about sex selection that gives cause to such rejection?

For me this is a no-brainer. Couples in the developed world, where gender discrimination and biases are less prominent, should be allowed to use gender selection for family balancing purposes. I'm absolutely flabbergasted that this is still not a right in some countries, including Canada where couples and their doctors face the threat of large fines and jail terms.

Admittedly, not all countries are ready for sex selection; India and China certainly come to mind. But that's not our problem, nor is it an indication of how sex selection would be used here. The idea that sex selection would significantly skew the gender balance here in the developed world is terribly misguided and not based on any real evidence. Given the 2 children per couple tendency, it's highly likely that most couples would opt to have a boy and a girl.

Another argument against sex selection is that it is prejudicial by its very nature -- that the very presence of preference indicates that gender biases exist and will continue to be reinforced. While this is a more nuanced argument, it fails to take into account an undeniable aspect of the human condition: we are a gendered species and gender differences do in fact exist.

A consequence of these differences is the rise of preference. We are a subjective and pragmatic species; we favor situations in which we have better control over our lives and our choices. Moreover, is it so wrong for a couple to want to have a girl, for example? Why should they be faulted for that? Why is preference in this case considered so evil? What about other morphological or psychological traits? Is it acceptable to screen for those characteristics, but not gender itself?

Until we truly get over gender in the biological sense, we need to re-acquaint ourselves with the realities of our gendered condition; we need to speak to the unique needs of male and female psychologies and biologies. And as long as we have laws and social norms that protect women (and men) from discrimination we shouldn't have to worry too much about any kind of prejudicial thinking stemming from couples who simply want to choose a boy or a girl.

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