Prenatal Gender Selection: Genetic Culling is Changing the World
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In the modern day, amazing progress has been made in technologies surrounding pregnancies and births. One of these technologies is the ability to select the gender of a child before birth. Known as prenatal gender selection, this has many positive impacts upon society, including preventing gender-related genetic diseases, and family balancing.
Some argue that genetic culling will lead to so-called baby shopping, where parents create their baby to their liking. Some believe that, much like the scene in Twentieth Century Fox Animation’s Robots where Mr. and Mrs. Copperbottom builds their son from a kit, parents will create children to their liking. The concern is that parents will use genetic culling to change a child’s traits and give themselves an excessive amount of control over their child’s life and body, but also take away from the natural course of birth.
While this is a valid concern, it is not the primary goal of genetic selection. The primary goal of genetic selection is to prevent the transmission of genetic diseases and children with potentially fatal ailments from being born into a life of suffering. An example of where embryonic selection can benefit a child is in families where color blindness is common. As males are more likely to be born color blind, parents in this circumstance may decide to have a girl instead of a boy to limit the chances of their offspring being color blind.
The most modern method of genetic culling is Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis. Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) is a method of determining any possible genetic ailments within embryos created during in vitro fertilization. This method is primarily used to prevent sex-linked genetic disorders, single gene disorders, chromosomal disorders, recurrent pregnancy loss, and low fertility rates. There are however still some downsides to PGD, these include the unfortunate fact that PGD cannot completely eliminate the risk of genetic disorders. Additionally, because only select embryos are allowed to grow to term, PGD conflicts with the moral standing that a discarded embryo is a discarded human life (Preimplantation). Although PGD does have its downsides, the positive aspects of PGD severely outweigh the negative aspects.
According to Hollingsworth and Doty, although the number of parents showing a bias for children of one gender has diminished, the number has not yet reached zero. Studies show that couples tend to show bias when planning to only have one child or after having two children of the same gender (Malhi et al.). This bias is more prevalent in cultures where one gender is valued more than the other. Many fear that sex selection will result in a gender imbalance, especially in the aforementioned societies. However, while this has happened in China, imbalance should not be a concern as China’s recently lifted one child law was the true cause of the imbalance.
The imbalance was caused because men are more valued in China thus because parents were only allowed one child per family, boys were chosen more often. Unfortunately, this often led to infanticide as well as thousands of girls put up for adoption. However, more often than not prenatal gender selection was not used to produce males, instead thousands of girls were put to death or subjected to the traumatizing conditions of adoption and abandonment. In the case of China, while more accessible PGD would have saved many from lives of suffering, it would not have prevented nor would it have created a more severe gender imbalance.
Another concern of those who oppose gender selection regards the commonplace practice of gender selection. Opponents of genetic culling believe prenatal gender selection will perpetuate “gender discrimination and oppression” (Hollingsworth, Doty). Those who see this as a problem may not see the whole picture, as gender-related power struggles occur in every society on the planet, even those where access to prenatal gender selection is unheard of. Genetic culling does not help or hurt the pre-existing issues of oppression in society. The primary reason for gender-based oppression is within the human psyche and the intrinsic need for control within humans.
While discarding embryos may be a concern for those who believe that a being is considered alive as soon as an egg is fertilized, those embryos which are fertilized but not allowed to grow to term present a large potential for medical and scientific research. The fate of these unused embryos is most commonly left to the couple from which they originated. There are many options as to where these embryos may end up. These options include stem cell research, as a donation to another couple who wishes to conceive but is unable to, frozen storage, or simply discarding the embryos (Hollingsworth, Doty).