Published June 16, 2009
About a month ago, during a routine obstetrical visit with one of my patients, she surprised me by telling me she found out she was having a baby boy. At first, I thought she meant that during an ultrasound, the technician had told her the sex of the child. But she said "No," that a girlfriend of hers had recommended a new kit she could buy on the Internet - which allegedly is 99.9 percent accurate in determining the sex of the baby, and that for $275, she could test herself at home, and send it off to the company for the results.
At first, I was taken aback because I hadn't heard of any such kit. But more importantly, I was upset that she did not share this information with me prior to doing the test so that I could advise her on whether or not taking this test was a good idea.
I always have a problem with people worrying too much about the sex of their unborn child. I guess I can understand it to some extent for families who want to plan ahead, who want to know whether or not to paint the room pink or blue, or to think about things like circumcision. But with all the potential problems and challenges women face in creating and carrying a child to term, it's unfortunate that sometimes people get side-tracked with insignificant details - and it strikes a nerve with me, because it brings up the topic of sex selection.
Today I read a story about six mothers in New York City who are suing Acu-Gen Biolab Inc., makers of the Baby Gender Mentor test, because their test results proved wrong at the birth of their children! I guess they felt the company had committed fraud. I tried to reach the company today to ask them some questions, but no one wanted to speak with me.
Looking at their Web site, I couldn't gather a lot of information, but I began to understand what the "science" is behind their test kit.
For years, in the medical community, we have known that fetal cells circulate freely in the maternal bloodstream. Many geneticists have looked at the possibility of studying these fetal cells in the maternal circulation for the purpose of testing for genetic disorders like Down syndrome. But none of the data has proven it to be a good alternative for genetic testing. Yet this company has been promoting this technology to patients directly as a "safe, quick and easy way to determine the sex of your baby."
I don't know what federal regulation this business has been operating under. It would be nice to see what kind of guidelines they're using, because the last time I checked, medical laboratories need to be licensed and laboratory tests must be ordered by physicians.
Finally, what are the ethics behind such a business? Are women going to use this alleged test to decide that they might want to terminate a pregnancy because now they know the baby is not the sex they wanted? It sounds like a stretch - but you'd be surprised...
Are mothers who get faulty test results going to think that their babies were switched at birth in the hospital? And what about these women that are suing?
This case is a perfect example of wasted dollars, a perfect example of unsubstantiated medical testing, and a perfect example of the types of businesses that need to be scrutinized in this country if we're going to see any effective health care reform.