If you are trying to become pregnant, you may be considering using certain techniques to determine the gender of your child. Many couples would love to have a little girl, while others dream of having a little boy. As a result, some of these couples try to increase their odds of having a child of the desired gender. In the past, the only methods available to enhance your chances of having a child of a certain sex were based on old wives tales and produced varying results. Now, however, couples may be able to choose the sex of their child with startling accuracy. Called gender selection, these techniques are receiving much attention and are hotly debated for their moral and ethical implications.
What is Gender Selection?
Gender selection is the term given to any procedure used to increase your chances of having a child of a specific sex. Also known as sex selection, many couples are now considering using fertility treatment methods to increase their chances of conceiving either a boy or a girl.
In order to create a baby, a woman’s egg must be fertilized by a man’s sperm. All eggs carry X-chromosomes, while sperm can carry either an X-chromosome or a Y-chromosome. If an X-bearing sperm fertilizes the egg, your child will be a girl; if a Y-bearing chromosome fertilizes the egg, your child will be a boy. You typically have a 50% chance of conceiving a girl and a 50% chance of conceiving a boy. Sex selection techniques work to increase your chances of having a child of one sex or the other.
The Background of Gender Selection
Gender selection is not a product of recent times. It has actually been around for many centuries, and can be dated back to Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. In the past, gender selection was based on unscientific practices, like sexual positions, intercourse timing, and the preparation of specific foods. In recent years though, new technologies have been developed to make the process of gender selection much more effective. Now couples can really increase their chances of having a child of a certain gender through various fertility procedures.
Reasons for Gender Selection
You may be wondering why a couple would be interested in choosing the gender of their child. Well, there are actually a number of common reasons for trying to increase your chances of having either a boy or a girl. Some reasons focus on the economic, social, or cultural benefits of having a child of a certain gender. Other common reasons include:
- Preventing Genetic Disease: Some couples decide to choose the sex of their child in order to prevent passing along certain genetic disorders. Some genetic diseases, like hemophilia and muscular dystrophy, occur only in boys, so some couples decide to have a girl in order to prevent passing along these illnesses.
- Family Rebuilding: Parents who have lost a child may decide to rebuild their family by having a child of the same gender. These couples often seek out sex selection procedures.
- Family Balancing: Couples sometimes choose sex selection in order to balance their families. This means that couples who already have a child choose to have a child of the opposite sex.
Gender Selection Procedures
Three types of treatments are available to help couples choose the sex of their child.
The Gradient Method
The gradient method is a sperm sorting procedure performed at many fertility clinics. Sperm is placed in a centrifuge and spun at high speeds. This process helps to separate the X-bearing sperm from the Y-bearing sperm. Because X-bearing sperm contains more genetic material, it weighs more, and thus falls to the bottom of the test tube during the spinning process. This allows sperm of a specific gender to be selected for use during IUI treatments. The gradient method has been criticized for providing less than desirable results. However, it’s price and simplicity attracts many couples.
Flow Cytometry (MicroSort)
Flow cytometry is also a sperm sorting procedure, and is performed under the brand name MicroSort. Flow cytometry uses a special fluorescent dye to identify X-bearing sperm. This dye binds to DNA material contained with sperm cells. Because X-bearing sperm contains more DNA than its Y-bearing counterparts, these sperm absorb more dye. This allows your reproductive endocrinologist to sort out the female sperm from the male sperm. Once the sperm has been sorted, it can be used in IUI or IVF procedures. Flow cytometry has a very high success rate, giving you a 60% to 70% of conceiving a child of your desired gender.
Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD)
PGD is the most effective method to use when it comes to gender selection. PGD is a highly complex procedure in which DNA from your embryos are analyzed in order to determine their sex. Embryos are created in a laboratory using sperm samples from the father and eggs retrieved from the mother. These embryos are allowed to divide for three days, after which one cell from each embryo is removed. These cells are then analyzed for DNA and genetic material in order to determine the sex of your embryos. Embryos of the desired sex are then implanted into your uterus. PGD is the most effective sex selection method, giving you a 99% chance of conceiving a child of the desired sex.
Ethical and Legal Concerns
Choosing gender selection is by no means an easy decision. There are many ethical and legal concerns surrounding the treatments, which can make it very difficult to decide on sex selection or to find clinics that provide these services. Many opponents of gender selection argue that the procedures are morally and ethically wrong. Some see gender selection as promoting sexual stereotypes and sexual discrimination. Others see it as the beginning of a slippery slope, possibly leading to procedures which could allow parents to choose the physical and psychological characteristics of their children.
If you are interested in sex selection, it is important that you first investigate the laws in your area. Sex selection is illegal in some countries, and in others it is only allowed for medical reasons. In the United States, there is no governing body that has ruled on sex selection procedures. Instead, it is up to fertility clinics to offer the procedures at their own discretion. However, these techniques are typically only performed to prevent genetic diseases or defects. Gender selection based on non-medical reasons is also illegal in Canada and Great Britain, however it is available in some countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.