Gender Selection: Ethical Dilemma
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Published: Wed, 15 Aug 2018
“Over the course of human history, the gender of a newborn child has mostly been a surprise and an uncontrollable aspect of the lifecycle” (Akchurin and Kartzke 2012). However, with advances in reproduction technologies nowadays such as in-vitro fertilization and testing embryos for abnormalities, parents can not only know the gender of their offspring before birth, but it is also possible for them to choose the gender of the child before it is being implanted in the womb (Cloonman et al. 2007). Since decades, the practice of identifying fetal sex during pregnancy has existed and it was first introduced in the 1970s (WHO 2012). While prenatal sex selection was once considered to be unique to India and China, the practice now exists in the Asian, European and African countries, especially with the prevalence of ultrasound, being more affordable to middle-class and even lower-class families (Miller 2001). Although gender selection has been beneficial to a large extent to society, questions about its ethicality are often raised and it remains a highly controversial issue. Therefore, the following points below emphasises on the arguments for and against in a bid to provide a balanced debate as to whether selecting the gender of a child before birth should be allowed or not
2.0 ARGUMENTS FOR MOTIVATIONS UNDERLYING SEX SELECTION
2.1 Prevention of selective abortion and infanticide
Throughout history, gender selection has been practiced after birth by the abandonment or killing of unwanted infants or before birth by selective abortion. However, these ruthless practices still exist in some countries. One of the main causes is due to deep-rooted cultural factors present in countries like India and China (Jones 1992) which strongly affect gender preferences. For instance, in China, the Government has adopted the “one-child” policy and for the case of India, most Indian’s parents mostly pray for a baby boy for cultural factors such as inheritance of property, family name to their heirs and their contribution to economic activity (Bhaskar and Gupta 2007). Therefore, by allowing parents to choose the sex of their offspring before pregnancy and eventually allow them to get their desired offspring, this will not only prevent them from committing sins like infanticide and selective abortion, but also avoid negative cultural implications.
2.2 Family Balancing
Gender selection is also considered as ethical when it is used for “Family balancing” purposes (Bhaskar 2010). As Cline (2007) claimed, families that already have one or more children of a particular sex may feel like selecting the gender of their next offspring in order to “balance the gender ratio” of their family. Data indicate that couples who are expecting a baby, but already have a daughter, prefer to have recourse to gender selection methods so as to ensure that their next child would be a boy (Hesketh and Zing 2006). Thus, this argument is justified when considering the fact that having children of different sex in a family is beneficial to the society (Akchurin and Kartzkey 2012).
2.3 Freedom of choice
If the latest technology in gender selection exists, then parents believe that they should have the reproductive right to select the gender make-up of their family given that no impairment is being caused to the society by their decision (Harris 1997). Article 16 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: “Men and women of full age… have the right to marry and to found a family” and this right also implies that they have the right to make choices over how their family should be formed(U.N. 1948).
2.4 Sex-linked genetic diseases
For families who are prone to get sex-linked genetic diseases like “Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, hemophilia, Cooley’s anemia, Down’s syndrome”, and more than 400 other diseases (Jones 1992), pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) prevent them from conceiving a baby with the risk of developing a severe illness and avoid abortion or premature death (Silverman 2005). Therefore, in this case, the use of PGD for a medical purpose is an ethical practice.
3.0 ARGUMENT AGAINST SEX SELECTION
3.1 Children designed to specifications
A popular criticism of gender selection is its use for non-medical reasons. Children are being considered as consumer products or toys designed to specifications in a bid to satisfy parents (Akchurin and Kartzke 2012). The latter are using money and technology to fulfill superficial desires and soon they will want to choose the eye or hair colour, skin tone and eventually the career of their offspring, thus leading to the creation of a “designer baby”. Besides, parents may not be aware that in trying to customize their babies, this may lead to the development of other undesirable traits; low intelligence, birth defects, the passing of hereditary diseases, or even genetic disorders.
3.2 Natural Selection
Having a child is a natural phenomenon, full of wonder, but however, doctors, and to an extent parents, are “playing God” by choosing the gender of their child (Leung 2004). Children should not be loved because of who they are, not because they are exactly what we wanted of them (Stein 2004). Reproductive technologies were developed with the intention to cure diseases, but choosing the gender of a child before pregnancy is not a disease. Thus, by allowing sex choice for non-medical reasons, this can have harmful implications on the society as this will encourage selective abortion. Besides, the society will lose its natural essence and the evolution of human species will be affected (Sureau 1999).
3.3 Gender imbalance
Another unintended consequence of sex selection is gender imbalance. Gender preferences due to social and cultural factors may result in serious imbalances in some countries like India, Vietnam and China. For instance, in India, the sex ratio at birth is very high such that there are “914 girls for every 1,000 boys” (The Economist 2011). The negative implications of gender imbalance may subsequently lead to “marriage squeeze” whereby a shortage of women leaves fewer brides available for the large numbers of prospective grooms (Hvistendahl 2012). These imbalances are socially harmful because as they are linked to forced marriage, sexual violence, kidnapping and prostitution.
“Childbirth is a complex series of molecular reactions and organic growth, and while doctors have learned much about the process, there is still much that is unknown” (Akchurin and Kartzke 2012). Technology has permitted humans to make choices on different ways on how to live their lives, but gender selection is all about allowing people making a choice about the life of someone else, which is not a decision for them to take as it severely affects the quality of life of the child in some way or another and can eventually have negative impacts on the society as a whole (Cloonman et al. 2007). However, as per the Human Genetics Alert Campaign Briefing (2002), it is pointless to ‘try to stop scientific advances’, but instead, it is better to focus on how to prevent any abuse. Policymakers need to be aware of the practice’s potential growth, and how it threatens gender equality and progress in their own countries (Gilles and Jacobs 2012). Hence, gender selection is a highly controversial issue as far as its applicability for medical and non-medical reasons is concerned and involves a debate that is outside the scope of this essay.
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