Sex Selection

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How can I forget the cute conversations around the dinner table when my sister, Mary, was on her way? The score was 1 to 2 and the boys were winning.

Mom and Dad kept things calm. They reminded us it would make no difference at all — when it came to love — whether the new baby was a boy or girl.

My older brother and I didn't buy the logic and looked forward to expanding the gender lead over our big sister, the reigning princess. To do that, we needed a brother. His name would be Jamie, if we had anything to do with it (and we thought we did), in honor of an exemplary human being, a running back from the University of Michigan football team who happened to share our last name. How cool it would be to have a brother named Jamie Morris!

That's the way kids think — and surprisingly many adults too, so much so that they're willing to pay big money to look into a Petri dish with their family doctor and say "yes" to some human embryos and “no” to others, based solely on gender.

Wealthy couples are heading to the United States to get around laws in their own countries that forbid sex selection as a method of "family planning." In Los Angeles and other cities, they find medical procedures that can give them the kind of kid they want, either a boy or girl. According to clinical statistics, the Chinese go for boys and Canadians go for girls.

The attitude is appalling. The practice is, too.

The Attitude:

One international fertility clinic, Centre Jonas International, advertises the scientific breakthrough on their website in this way:

"Sex selection offers the chance for a more balanced family and allows your children to feel wanted."

Now there's something deeply wrong with that. It's an attitude. I assume this company has done marketing research. They know what their clients want. Are they suggesting couples would make a child feel unwanted if it didn't meet its "gender expectations?" The next line in the advertisement answers the question for us:

"A female child who knows that her family wished she were a boy carries an unnecessary burden throughout her childhood."

This attitude comes from a "me-centered" universe where people — babies, in this case — serve our needs. If I could get away with selecting curly hair, green eyes, and above average intelligence, I would do that too.

Shocking? Inappropriate? Why? Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg of the Fertility Institutes of Los Angeles and Nevada, who charges about $20,000 for the procedure, thinks we just need more time to get over our scruples. "It's new. It's scary. We understand that. People will be less alarmed as sex selection becomes more routine."

The good doctor is right. He and his financial partners will probably succeed in converting something very scary into something very routine. They may not have taken into account, however, that they will never be able to convert what is always wrong into ever being right.

The Procedure:

The problem with sex selection or even future "design babies" goes beyond attitude. It has to do with how it works.

When a mother produces eggs, she and her husband fly to a fertilization clinic. The eggs are extracted, fertilized with the husband's sperm, and monitored while they grow to eight cells each. A lab technician then extracts one cell from each embryo for genetic analysis. Two or three of the embryos of the preferred gender are implanted in the mother-to-be. The clients then must decide what to do with the embryos of the "non-preferred sex." They can freeze them (and pay for rental space), donate them to science, or destroy them.

This is nothing new. It is a method often used for in-vitro fertilization. What is new is the awareness it brings to all of us of what those embryos actually are. We would prefer to consider them future human beings, but now, science, not religion, is telling us they are already male or female. Male or female what? They are boys or girls at the earliest stages of development.

Any doubt? Ask the Chinese or the Canadians, or the many other affluent couples from around the world who are willing to bet their money on it.

God bless, Father Jonathan

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