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Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK
Should parents be able to choose the sex of their child?
Researchers in the US say they have developed a technique that can virtually guarantee the sex of a foetus.
They have applied the method to couples undergoing fertility treatment and claim they are up to 90% successful in choosing the sex of the unborn child.
The technique could be good news for couples who can only have children of one sex for medical reasons -some genetic disorders, for instance, are only passed on to children of a particular sex.
But there is concern that it will also be used for purely social reasons. And a leading fertility expert in Britain has warned that this method could even damage the unborn child.
Should parents be able to choose the sex of their babies? Is it frivolous to want a child of a particular sex? Should these medical advances be regulated?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Bilal Patel, London, UK
Perhaps the countries that fear a gender imbalance may be forced to confront the widespread female infanticide and 'social' abortions of girls. Maybe women would be valued a little more if they were in the short supply that some people seem to be suggesting. Self-righteous indignation will not improve the lot of many of the world's women who dread the arrival of a daughter.
Genetic variation and mutation is a process which is key to the survival and development of any species. We simply can't start selecting the genetic makeup of our children in any way, shape or form.
Actually with the problem of overpopulation haunting the human race, it is a good thing that parents can now choose the child they want and be happy with that, rather than try and try and overpopulate our planet further.
Andy Chisholm, UK
I would question the mental well being of any person who wanted to choose the gender of their child. Children do not come wrapped in packages, "Oh, I'll have a girl please". There may be the believe by some that by choosing gender from the start means they are buying other attributes as well. Well they do, good and bad. Parenting is tough, and it isn't getting any easier and that's why I enjoy it.
I do not see any reason why it is wrong to pick the sex of your first child, as long as the second is the opposite sex to the first.
Our genes do a good job of maintaining a balanced male to female ratio. Disrupting this ratio by selecting whether your child is male or female will create many cultural problems.
When trains first arrived people thought they would go so fast the air would be sucked out of our lungs. Doctors used to bleed people to make them better. People are frightened by what they do not understand and that is a real shame. Technology like this excites me and can only go on to make things better for ourselves.
If you would not love and cherish a child of either sex, then do not have a child! If a parent is not willing to deal with the possibility of having a medically needy child, do not have a child. I think choosing the sex of the child for any reason is an awful idea.
For parents to want to choose the sex of their offspring implies that one sex is preferable to the other. What is the point of trying to promote a society where all individuals are equal?
I do not think there is anything wrong with wanting to choose the sex of your children. It strikes me as being an entirely natural need. In order to avoid any bias to one sex or another, the regulated system will simply ensure that the total number of males chosen will equal the total number of females chosen over an annual period. Not all couples will want females and not all couples will want males. Simple.
I think a simple Yes/No answer is too general in this case. I agree with it in circumstances where genetic disorders may be passed on to a particular sex, but I disagree with it purely for social reasons. Human beings survive due to the relatively random determination of sex resulting in a reasonably even distribution of the two sexes. If this technology was made open to the public, it may result in population imbalances in one particular sex. And where does it stop? How long will it be before eye or hair colour are at the whim of the parents. I shudder to think.
We are now seeing genetic problems developing in animals that have been cloned. Nature has a wonderful way of creating balance and optimising survival we mess around with that at our peril.
I do not agree with this. Certain cultures are biased towards the male child, female children are already ostracised or even killed, this technology will only add to the problem. Also the machine in the US is not necessarily clean between operations, thus it may be possible to select the gender of the child, but not the father.
People seem to be having a knee jerk reaction to this. Technology will not make normal human beings into monsters. We are not on the edge of some facist wonderland. By denying this technology you are giving the message that your fears are more important that the lives of people whose children will be blighted and possibly shortend by a genetic defect.
As someone working for a medical NGO in India, I see the misery (and fear) suffered by women who do not produce male children. For those who are against the idea, I wonder if you would want to be set alight for bearing two girl children in succession. Unpleasant as this may seem, it is reality for many women.
Kevin J, UK
In simple words, it is great from a science point of view but it is ethically inproper to choose the sex of one's child. It defies the natural process of evolution. What nature decides is the way it should be.
The procedure used to pick a child's sex damages the child's DNA. So you cannot pick their sex without running a risk of injuring them.
Children are a gift and a blessing. We should be thankful for what we get. We should not be playing God and if we do we will regret it later down the line. A child is a child regardless of the sex, it is still your own flesh and blood.
It is possible to choose when you want your baby, how you want it delivered, and now the sex of it. Why not go the next step and have "make your own baby" kits available at the local supermarket. I can see the slogan "buy two boys, and get the girl absolutely free". This is personal choice gone mad.
Niran Adegoke PhD, Nigeria
Outraged is one word that springs to mind when I first heard about this, and I am devastated and surprised about the amount of people who are pushing this through. When the whole world evolved and we as humans developed this would have been called witchcraft or the devils work, but now its remarkable scientific work, this maybe an old has-been look on this subject but are we ready to start meddling in areas that will have negative result in the end. Some people are less fortunate to not be able to conceive or other various problems in having children but is this not just the card we are handed, the reason why we are all individuals?
It seems that the views are split along gender lines. Most female correspondents (women, let's face it, bear the child to term and, generally speaking, play a greater part in the child's nurture during early years) seem happy to accept Nature's lottery. In global terms, the ability to choose the child's sex will be limited: To a small percentage of affluent parents. That is unlikely to upset the gender balance. But, if ever the option became freely available, we'd have something to fear.
What honest reasons are there for choosing the sex of a child, other than sex-linked genetic abnormalities? If you have preconceived ideas of how a son or daughter will grow up, you will likely be surprised!
And will your sons honour you if you are willing to destroy your daughters?
Who are we to select what should live and what should not? Who are we to abuse technology for our own sick, selfish reasons. This process will rape and murder any natural selection - this is fiendish and must be stopped. This selfishness will be brutal and murderous.
Kate, Australia / Germany
Leave it to mankind to play God. Hitler tried to make the "master race" through eugenics. Now 50+ years later we have "genetic engineering" and we are now going to "engineer" children! Our first step to change the sex of the child. Then what?! The hair colour? The eye colour? The intelligence of the child? Where do we draw the line? Granted, this new science has great benefits for mankind, but we are not wise enough to handle it. But we as a species will always rush where angels fear to tread.
Hell NO!!! Whether we like to admit it or not, we are still living in a world of male dominance. Can you imagine what this would do to countries like China? This is not a decision for us to make, why do we need to upset the balance of the sexes. If this were to become possible, men you better begin liking the company of other men!
Moral issues aside, let's examine the sociological impact of gender selection. In many societies, including our's (it's still a man's world, as much as we like to think it isn't), boys tend to be preferred over girls. If we allow gender selection we are tampering with the ratios, which in future generations, will reduce the birth rate to a level far below the replacement rate, meaning that there will be more senior citizens than workers. In the next generation, people may see females as more "valuable", because they are rarer, which would swing the gender ratio to see way more child bearing women than men. This pendulum will swing for a hundred years before it stabilizes. During that time, the world population would drop, possibly by an order of magnitude. Also the world population will be significantly older, meaning fewer workers and more burdened social systems. Higher taxes, mean less investment, and fewer jobs. We cannot sustain ourselves with such a low birth rate!
Jane, Wales, UK
Yes if there is a high risk of a genetic disease which only affects one sex. No for cultural or simple like/dislike.
No. This is not a choice, it's a gift. How dare we presume to know better than Biology.
It's just plain wrong, and no amount of flimsy justification will make me change my mind. I'm all for new technologies in all fields, but in an area that we currently know so little about it's a big risk to take by meddling with human genetics. I find it interesting that no one has talked about the longer term effects upon the children themselves, and whether there will be any bias to the sex of the children they may have.
I don't agree with the fact that parents should choose the sex of their child. Many studies prove that even in developed nations many parents and families prefer a boy instead of a girl, and if choice is given to parents it may lead to imbalance. These kind of medical exploitations are insane, I see no reason why parent should choose the sex of his child. The birth of a boy or a girl is not important, but a
birth of a healthy child is what is important.
Cheryl Davis, USA
Why on earth not? Children are often born for "selfish" reasons - to save a relationship, to fill out a parent's life. If a child is born into a happy, fulfilled family, all the better.
Evolution is a remarkably robust process. If we apply artificial selection instead of natural selection, we can guarantee a weaker gene pool. Obviously we should not start down this path, but the natural process of evolution will always win. If our artificial selection is less optimal than natural selection, we can expect to be replaced by societies that leave well alone.
The horror of this so-called 'breakthrough' is utterly petrifying. When are we going to stop fighting nature and accept that some things just shouldn't be tampered with?
Andy Nield, UK
Before touching on the details of this discussion, I think one thing is clear - "child-engineering" is as inevitable as the internet. With the advent of micro-array technology and the subsequent emergence of functional genomics, picking sex seems rather paltry in comparison with what will soon be possible. Having a child is perhaps the single greatest moral act a human being can participate in; giving people the right to take a proactive stance (eg pick the sex, the intelligence, and the athletic capability) should be applauded. After all, we are talking about a life here, and the happiness that person will experience over the course of their existence. If parents are going to treat a girl better than a boy, by all means let them have a girl.
There is some irony that what these scientists are proposing is exactly what others are trying to discourage in India and China. If society has accepted that the only remaining 'ethical' criteria are "can we do it?" and "does it sell?", then what hope is there? There are other ethical criteria, but they are interwoven, and you can't pick and choose - which goes against our consumer mentality. Pray.
Please do not make a choice on your own. Let nature make the decision. Nature has always done good to man! Do not take science to this edge.
As a scientist myself, I am always interested to see advances in biological techniques.
However, when science is driven by individual and economical interests, we have to question ourselves.
For some medical cases (infertility for instance), it may be justified to make use of such techniques.
But when it's a question of preference rather than of true essential intervention to save endangered lives, science should set its limits.
Opening the door to this could mean, in a near future, that people will be offered to select not only the sex of their forthcoming children, but also a plethora of other advantageous traits (height, strength, intelligence), completely disturbing the natural differences amongst us. What about normal "non-improved" people then?
Science should not be devoid of its human interests.
Alex Steer, UK
The media is responsible for changing the attitudes of individuals towards these technologies, mainly children and teens showing them the "coolness" of being able to genetically engineer humans and creatures granting them near infinite intelligence etc.
All that serves one purpose to get the population that is receptive to those ideas ready for a time when those technologies will be lobbied in Parliament, to enable them to be used legally by anyone
This is a person that we're talking about here, NOT a handbag. Perhaps some people would do well to be thankful for a healthy, normal child rather than trying to be so selfish.
I'm unhappy about this. How long will it be before someone is sued for not getting the sex right and for the child failing to live up to the parents' expectations? What are we playing at? It seems to me we are encouraging ourselves to see the children as the problem whereas it is the parents who are the problem. "Provide us with perfect children, to order". How many parents dare to match up to an expectation like that? Each child is a unique being. Designer, custom-built children will not have that exquisite quality. They will, people hope, be Mummy and Daddy's dream child. My children are not perfect and never will be and I and my partner love them for what they are not what we want them to be.
If it can be proved that a birth defect may well be avoided then, yes, allow it. In all other circumstances choosing the sex of your children should be absolutely, categorically banned. Nature has done a pretty good job up until now, let's try and resist the urge to tinker with this most fundamental aspect of it just because we can. Think about it - instead of a particular name being in fashion from one year to the next people will be able to decide the sex of their baby based on the current "trends" in magazines - it's a horrific thought and can only have a negative effect on the human race. Thankfully, I don't think any government anywhere in the World will ever be insane enough to allow it.
Why not! If it means happier parents, then the child will reap the benefits.
C. Mumford, UK
Why should parents want to choose? Isn't this human beings playing at being little gods again? What if the treatment doesn't work and they get a child of the "wrong" sex? Will it be less loved and wanted? This is yet another area where lifestyle choice is a euphemism for putting self first.
We need to appreciate that natural selection is what keeps the human race viable. Even if we argue that choosing the sex of an unborn child helps eradicate genetic disease, we're still faced with the fact that we're bringing children into the world that Nature would have prevented. Of course, the other side of this coin is that modern medicine defies Nature anyway, keeping many people alive that might, in a completely natural world, not survive but there are lines to be drawn. We shouldn't be able to choose the sex of our children - this is life, not a shopping spree.
People use the word "Nature" to support their arguments, but when flood drowns human lives, no one says "flood is disturbing natural balance" or when drought kills animals, no one says "drought is playing with Nature" - because flood and drought are part of nature. Similarly, humans are part of nature and human activity is natural activity just like flood or drought.
In Indian context, thinking that there will be scarcity of women will not hold true with the passage of time. Don't forget that there are overshoots and undershoots before settling to equilibrium and this may cause permanent damage to system. To avoid lasting damage to social system these "shoots" need to be controlled, rather than scientific advancements which are equally natural.
In general, selection should NOT be available, however where there are demonstrated medical reasons, ie genetic disorders, for selection then it should be allowed. Social reasons by themselves are not justifiable.
For those who think that choosing the sex
of your child is fiddling with the gene pool,
I agree with you, but think about this: How
many people have some inherited genetic
condition, say CF, or Downs, or any other
serious genetic condition, which would in
times past, prevent them from maturing to
the point where they could reproduce? Now,
however, with access to modern medicine,
and other treatments, they may lead a much
better and more fulfilled life, which may
include their own children, thus propagating
detrimental genetic abnormalities, and in
essence, messing with the gene pool.
The only time that parents can decide on what gender is when there is a high chance of one gender inheriting a condition that makes them severely disabled and/or reduces their live.
I cannot believe that doctors of all people do not realise that nature has a natural balance between male and females that are born for a reason?
To upset the balance would be catastrophic to humanity.
Of course we should be able to choose the sex of their baby - I certainly want to! (Sorry Nick but I want girls!) Everyone should have the right to choose - after all we do select the skin colour, etc. by the person we choose to mate with!
The advances in this area and the culture of personal rights (as opposed to responsibilities) are, quite frankly, frightening!
In fact its an eternal human curiosity to meddle with nature...why do we have universities teaching every branch of science?
Dr. Balaji, India
At first sight this looks like a recipe for disaster with certain cultures choosing to create male children to a much greater degree than female. If you think it through though it could reduce the overpopulation of the planet as it is female children who go on to produce offspring. In western societies I would think it unlikely that it would shift the balance either way.
I agree with most of your correspondents - If it is for medical reasons then it is permissible. If it for "selfish" reasons then it isn't. It really doesn't matter if a baby is a boy or a girl. All that really matters is that it is loved and cherished, regardless of gender.
Surely having children is a responsibility rather than a right? What right do we have to change what is already chosen?
Is it not our responsibility to teach, discipline and guide a child - regardless of their sex?
Are people no longer grateful for the mere opportunity to have a child?
Yes! I think that every baby should be a WANTED baby. But I also think that the reasons for choosing a particular sex should be thoroughly investigated before couples are allowed the treatment.
The parent shouldn't choose the sex of the child. This is unnatural - much like genetically engineered food.
Although for certain medical reasons I can see the advantages and would consider it a good thing, I believe like many other things it would be abused. If such methods are to be used they must be strictly controlled and regulated.
The implications for families afflicted with medical conditions are tremendous, so branding this type of advance as "evil" or "playing God" is ludicrous. The flip side is yet more middle-class parents demanding ever more perfect children, and I dread courtroom litigation over "wrong sex" babies. As usual there is no simple right or wrong here, and again we are having to come to terms with science's amorality and inexorable drive onward. Control and regulation of our new science will be the toughest task of all - see also IVF, GM food, hormones, euthanasia, nuclear power, etc, etc.)
SJ, Reading, UK
Surely choosing the sex of a baby will upset the balance that nature creates of numbers of males and females. Haven't we interfered enough with the planet as a whole without producing all males or females? If sex is chosen for genetic disease avoidance perhaps that is permissible, but for social reasons it could be disastrous.
Choosing a particular sex has been done in the past. I do not see there is a problem with parents picking their choice of sex.
Naturopaths in countries like Pakistan and India, were performing this 'art' back in the early 1900s and there are still people practising it even today. It's a God given gift to humanity - use it to benefit society, do not abuse the scientific technique that can lead to disaster.
It depends on the reason for the selection. If it's to minimise/ eradicate debilitating gender-associated genetic diseases, then I have no problem. If it's to fulfil the selfish desires of parents to have a child of a particular sex, then this is clearly wrong. The reason we aren't able to select the sex of our children is to ensure that, statistically speaking, we have roughly the same number of men and women to propagate the species. By tampering with this process wholesale, we risk the future of the race.
We are one of the last generations of truly natural human beings, who are able to look at the world and feel at one with it.
I'm amazed this has even been allowed. We shouldn't be messing with nature. The arrogance that assumes that this is a "breakthrough" and that we have overcome an obstacle of nature is beyond belief. We are part of nature - nature isn't something that we should be striving to overcome or defeat.
Jane Hardman, England
Absolutely not! The world would run out of women.
Currently choosing the sex of the child by parents is correct but in future it will create big problems. Nature knows how to maintain the ratio of the sexes. Before this kind of ideas start from the human mind, Nature is maintaining the ratio properly. We don't want to disturb the ratio of Nature. There should be a limit for science.
This seems to be yet another example of the human race exercising its most wrongly valued idea of 'want, want, want'. Science may design a new non-destructible building or a cure for cancer, but they cannot be allowed to abuse the very basics of nature itself. It is going to open a whole can of unsightly worms, with entirely genetically modified children on the way. People must learn to be happy with what they have got in life, because there are some out there, particularly in other parts of the world, who have absolutely nothing.
Adrian Jarvis, England
Apart from medical reasons, absolutely not. It's going to be a short step from selecting babies on the basis of sex to selecting them on the basis of hair colour, height, weight, eye colour, appearance etc. etc. We should not be mucking around with our gene pool for the sake of fashion.
Personally I don't see any problem with this. Any scientific or technological advance should be celebrated as a symbol of human progress in the face of nature's obstacles.
This so called innovation in the medical world might be a crisis initiator in countries like Pakistan and India where there is already a falling female population - this technology will be abused rather than used.
05 Jul 01 | Fertility conference 2001
Concern over baby sex 'guarantee'
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