I have 3 questions for you (sorry, none of them have to do with the adorable babies pictured above): 1. Have you seen the movie Gattaca? 2. Do you recognize anything special about the letters in that name? (Hint: Maybe a familiar friend named Genetics is paying you a visit!) And 3. What are your views on genetic alterations, such as sex selection, to embryos? Gattaca is a movie about the possible consequences of technology which is originally meant to assist human reproduction. And although the movie is completely fictitious, we could be well on our way to the real-life version of the movie — and in a way we already are.
The history and information on reproductive technology is as interesting as it is long. So, to hone in on a more specific topic, I will be focusing on sex selection in this blog post. Sex selection is choosing the gender of a future child through scientific methods of reproduction such as sperm sorting/separating and staining, a Baby Gender Mentor test, or Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). The science behind these operations is advanced and interesting, but also sparks Bioethical debates on the morality of picking and choosing a favorite gender. If you want a little more info, watch this video:
The debates on sex selection center on the use of technology and science as an instrument of gender discrimination, violation of disability rights, and normalization of the synthetic “design” of children. In some cultures, namely India and China, girls are valued much less than boys. In these cultures, baby girls are killed just for being born. While researching this topic, I came across a movie called It’s A Girl. The trailer that I watched made my stomach turn — especially the part where an Indian woman casually talked about how she repeatedly strangled her newborn daughters. Eight of them. The trailer and more information can be found here: http://www.itsagirlmovie.com. A quotation from an article entitled “200 Million Girls Killed in China, Where Are the Feminists?” further explains the problem. But before you read this, be warned — it presents only a few of the multiple graphic and horrendous ways that female babies are killed…“In China, a ‘one-child’ policy, enforced by the state with forced sterilizations and abortions, exacerbates gender-cide, leading some parents to take matters into their own hands. If you’re allowed only two children, and you already have one girl…well, in a culture where males are valued much more highly than females, it’s not hard to imagine what follows. Baby girls are stuck in sacks and thrown in rivers and down wells, even dumped upside-down in buckets of water.” In China and India it is undesirable, even unacceptable, to have a baby girl; killing female children is unfortunately very common in these societies. Imagine if everyone in these cultures was given access to sex selective technologies — odds are that virtually no girls would be born. This would not only create a large gender imbalance, but also further encourage mistreatment, discrimination, and violence against females.
Another issue facing sex selection is that is may be used to violate disability rights. The use of screening to prevent the birth of children who may be disabled is an ethical problem that is also being addressed in media today. In addition to this, many fear that sex selection may normalize the “design” of children. Sex selection today may lead to the “customization” of babies tomorrow — from the perfect eye color and height to (possibly) cognitive abilities and emotional tendencies. Bioethicists are disturbed by this possibility because it goes against the very fundamentals of nature and would undoubtedly lead to discrimination.
Now, if you’re still wondering why you should care about this subject, I will tell you. To begin, I’ll tell you (as simply as I can, because I could go on for pages and pages about this topic) why I care: because we need to prevent the possible harm that could result in the future. Now, being a girl, some might consider me to be slightly biased. But let me assure you, if the tables were turned and males were on the receiving end of discrimination, I would be just as passionate about this issue. And let me ask you: does it really matter which gender? Does any baby deserve to be killed or denied the chance at life because of his or her gender? This issue is concerning because of the current amount of discrimination in the world today would in fact be heightened by sex selection — the problem would only get worse. But there’s also another side to this debate that makes this issue so controversial — the rights, freedom, and autonomy of the parents. I often have a great internal struggle with debates such as these which deal with whose rights are more important between two opposing groups. However, not only is there a moral side to this debate, but also a scientific threat. If a genetically homogeneous population is created in the future, the human race is much more vulnerable to disease, viruses, and mutations than a diverse population would be.
The world of Gattaca is composed of two classes: “the valids” — those who have the “correct” genes and who are treated with the highest quality everything in life — and “the in-valids,” who are treated as if they were not human at all. We have all read a history textbook, and this kind of discrimination should start to sound alarmingly familiar in a multitude of ways. Sex selection may at the moment just be a way for parents to ensure their prefered gender, but the consequences that this could lead to are, in my opinion, extremely frightening possibilities. But despite these possible outcomes, sex selection continues to grow. This is an extremely complicated ethical issue because it also deals with the right to autonomy of individual women and families. If there is any possible way to regulate the use of sex selection technology to protect against discrimination without diminishing the rights of the mothers and families, we need to find and implement them now — before it’s too late.
A. Chris Gajilan. “Gender Selection a Reality, but Is It Ethical?” CNN. Cable News Network, 17 Nov. 2005. Web. <http://www.cnn.com/2005/HEALTH/conditions/11/16/pdg.gender.selection/index.html?eref=sitesearch>.
”Family Balancing’: Selecting Your Baby’s Gender.” YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. <https://youtu.be/V4t4IfAyhD8>.
“Female Infanticide in India and China.” Domestic Violence Services. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.domesticviolenceservices.com/female-infanticide.html>.
“Gender and Genetics.” WHO. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. <http://www.who.int/genomics/gender/en/index4.html>.
“It’s a Girl! — Official Trailer.” It’s a Girl! Documentary Film – Official Website. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.itsagirlmovie.com/>.
Jabr, Ferris. “Are We Too Close to Making Gattaca a Reality?” Scientific American Blog Network. N.p., 28 Oct. 2013. Web. <http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/brainwaves/are-we-too-close-to-making-gattaca-a-reality/>.
“New Forms of Sex Selection.” CENTER FOR GENETICS AND SOCIETY. Genetics and Society. Web. <http://www.geneticsandsociety.org/downloads/SexSelection.pdf>.
“Select the Gender of Your Next Baby.” Gender Selection Centers. The Fertility Institutes,
n.d. Web. <http://www.fertility-docs.com/programs-and-services/gender-selection/select-the-gender-of-your-baby-using-pgd.php>.
Walker Hatten, Kristen. “200 Million Girls Killed in China, Where Are the Feminists?
LifeNews.com.” LifeNews.com. N.p., 02 Nov. 2012. Web. <http://www.lifenews.com/2012/11/02/200-million-girls-killed-in-china-where-are-the-feminists/>.
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“Name Your Girl-Boy Twins!” Nameberry. Nameberry, LLC., 14 Oct. 2014. Web.<http://nameberry.com/blog/name-your-girl-boy-twins>.