Oddly, as our global society has moved in the direction that we call progress, some of our technological advancements have allowed and even encouraged the continuation of certain attitudes that would hopefully have fallen by the wayside.
“Family Balancing” is a benign sounding euphamism for deliberate and technologically achieved gender selection. It can be done pre-conception (sperm sorting), pre-implantation (implanting only embryos of the “right” gender), or post-implantation (selective abortion).
What’s wrong with this, one might ask? Certain world views and philosophies may find nothing objectionable in the thought of parents deliberately choosing one gender over another, for whatever reason. If someone wants two girls, why not? If someone wants the perfect “Millionaire’s Family” (one boy, one girl), why not? Why not technologically up the chances, or even guarantee, that a couple will get a baby of a particular gender? Doesn’t that make them happier, to have the baby they want? People have, after all, been at least attempting to select the gender of their child for ages, some through old wives tales (“Sleep on your left side to conceive a boy”) and others through abortion or even infanticide.
But many people do find the thought somewhere between cringe-inducing and revolting. The reasons for this are several.
Gender and Sexism
One of the main objections to gender selection is that historically it has been hideously sexist. In countries where one gender is preferred over the other, easily available “Family Balancing” may result in a seriously skewed male-to-female population ratio. This has already happened in China, where a generation of young men are growing up with a growing, unnatural, and problematic sex ratio. China’s draconian population experiment ran head on into traditional favoritism for boys, resulting in gender selection abortions and incomprehensible numbers of unborn females being eliminated in the hopes of a son filling the one-child quota.1 This is, or should be, a major issue for feminists. Those who believe in equal value and equal rights and reject sexism must consider thoroughly the ethical implications of selecting for gender, no matter how early in the process of reproduction, and no matter how progressive the technology used.
Because of the nature of the “Family Balancing” process, this one is fairly obvious. Those on the far conservative end of the abortion debate will automatically reject most of this technology because of the culling and destruction of embryos involved in pre-implantation embryo selection, and of course when abortions are performed with the same intent. Further, the deeply religious will likely balk at such direct and dramatic interference with the natural order of things. Ultimately, they are likely to reach similar conclusions as the anti-sexism crowd, though perhaps by different processes. For those who hold Catholic life-ethics viewpoints, or something similar, it is God who determines the gender of each human individual, and each human is precious to God regardless of gender. Thus, for humans to grasp at such determinations is to take a huge step out of bounds.
Intelligent, and well-educated people continue to debate on this subject. OB/GYN News published two opposing viewpoints as far back as 1999.2 Interestingly, the conclusion of the article pointed out that the ethics of gender selection are inextricably connected to the ethics of other sorts of selection (such as selecting to rule out Down’s Syndrome or aborting a fetus with Down’s Syndrome markers). It is not a simple question with a simple answer, but the consequences of society’s ultimate decision on the matter will be huge, as such a decision will result from attitudes towards gender and life-ethics, and affect the attitudes of future generations towards these subjects. Consider carefully then, the means as well as the desired end when it comes to reproductive technology. How we get to where we want to go matters a great deal to whether or not we live in a society that values human beings without discrimination.
1China Begins to Face Sex-ratio Imbalance, Eric Baculinao, World News on msnbc.com
2PRO & CON from OB/GYN News, Dec 1, 1999, Ruth Macklin, Ph.D., BNET