By Hilary White
LOS ANGELES, February 27, 2009 ( – Demand for sex-selection for in vitro fertilization is “rapidly growing” according to many private IVF facilities in the US. In a CNN report on sex-selection and other genetic screening tests at the Fertility Institutes IVF facility in California, a spokesman for the Center for Genetics and Society said that the widespread practice of sex-selective IVF could open the door to “a society where there are new kinds of inequality and new kinds of discrimination, a world that we really would not want to live in.”
The CNN report focused on the success of the Fertility Institutes, a private artificial reproduction facility in Los Angeles that advertises “gender selection” by pre-implantation genetic diagnosis of already created embryos, and claims a nearly 100 per cent “success rate.” The facility also claims to be the first to offer the “pending availability” of genetic tests to pre-determine the eye color, skin and hair color, and “cancer tendency” of embryos created in the lab.
The secular ethics world, while fully embracing artificial reproduction in general, has long been hesitant about endorsing sex-selection of embryos. The specter of “designer babies” has held the public imagination since the technologies were being developed in the late 1970s.
In 1983, the US President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research wrote that sex-selection “seems incompatible with the attitude of virtually unconditional acceptance that developmental psychologists have found to be essential to successful parenting.”
But the commercial world of artificial reproduction has embraced the highly lucrative practices of genetic screening wherever the law allows it, including in the US. The Fertility Institutes advertises, “For the first time ever, patients having genetic screening for abnormal chromosome conditions in their embryos will be able to elect expanded testing that can greatly increase the odds of achieving a healthy pregnancy with a preselected choice of gender, eye color, hair color and complexion, along with screening for potentially lethal diseases, screening for cancer tendencies (breast, colon, pancreas, prostate) and more.”
And the demand is high. Dr. Jeff Steinberg, director of the Fertility Institutes, claims that his company is performing approximately 10 gender selection procedures every week, at a fee of (US) $18,400 each.
Despite the claim by Dr. Steinberg that Canadian clients tend to ask for more girls, Dr. Jeffrey Nisker, an ethicist and IVF specialist at the University of Western Ontario, has said he was driven to re-examine the ethics of the practice by the large number of requests among Canadian clients for boys.
Dr. Nisker, the first Canadian doctor to perform pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, gave his opinion to the House of Commons committee examining Canada’s assisted reproductive technologies bill, that the government should outlaw sex-selective activities in artificial reproduction, except in the case of sex-related diseases.
He told the Commons Committee that after his team had developed the technologies, requests came flooding in from all over Canada, but, “The number one genetic disease they requested this for was that of being a woman.”
“They wanted boy children. … I was as blinkered as anybody else. This was going to be good. This was going to help women, but the [feminist] social advocates … had been warning me. The feminist activists in Canada had been warning me what would happen with my research. They were right.”
In a letter coauthored with colleague Laura Shanner, to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Dr. Nisker wrote, “Like most bioethicists, we reject sex selection except to prevent serious sex-linked medical disorders. Our primary ethical guide remains unchanged: assisted reproduction creates new relationships and must always be understood in that context.”
In practice, sex-selective procedures discriminate against women, he writes: “Sex ratio imbalances are already causing social disturbances in parts of India and China where young men cannot find partners. Because sex selection most often prevents the birth of female children, the practice devalues women as a group.”

“All children deserve respect regardless of their sex. Children must never be treated as custom-ordered commodities to satisfy our personal or social preferences,” he added.


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