Academic journal article Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy

A Right to Choose? Sex Selection in the International Context

Academic journal article Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy

A Right to Choose? Sex Selection in the International Context

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) has been used in the United States and around the world for decades to help women become pregnant, most commonly through in vitro fertilization (IVF)--the transfer of fertilized human embryos into a woman's uterus. The ethical issues surrounding in vitro fertilization have received considerable treatment in existing scholarship. As ART advances, however, so does the bioethical debate. Innovations such as sperm sorting and Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) now offer would-be parents the opportunity to select prenatally the sex of their offspring.

Sex selection is the practice of using medical techniques to choose the sex of one's offspring. These techniques include sperm sorting, PGD, and selective abortion. Selective abortion in particular has led to national crises in India and China. In India, the desire for male heirs has created an explosion in the number of clinics that use ultrasound to determine the sex of a fetus and in physicians who perform sex-selective abortions. (1) According to a study by The Lancet, a premier British medical journal, sex selection claims up to 500,000 female fetuses in India every year. (2) Since ultrasound machines were first introduced into India in 1979, an estimated ten million female fetuses have been aborted. (3)

In China, the problem is particularly acute. According to official figures, approximately 119 boys are born for every 100 girls. (4) Selective abortion in China is common; nearly every township clinic has an ultrasound machine, and free abortions are readily available under the one-child policy. (5)

In the United States and other Western nations, there is little evidence that abortion is used for the purpose of sex selection. However, recent medical developments have made a variety of less invasive sex-selection techniques available to would-be parents. As noted in the journal GeneWatch,

   [i]n the United States, some fertility clinics are beginning to
   openly advertise sex selection. For example, several times in 2004,
   the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times carried an ad from
   the Virginia-based Genetics & IVF Institute, touting its patented
   sperm-sorting method. Beside a smiling baby, its boldface headline
   asked, "Do You Want To Choose the Gender Of Your Next Baby?" (6)

Indeed, some polls suggest that as many as twenty-five percent of Americans, (7) and forty percent of American women being treated for infertility, (8) would prefer to choose the sex of their next baby through preimplantation sex-selection procedures.

This Note analyzes: (1) the ramifications of sex selection in India, China, and the United States; (2) the laws in those nations that currently govern the sex selection issue; and (3) the legal, social, and political steps required to mitigate the growing challenges presented by harmful sex-selection practices. I argue that sex selection is a legal and ethical issue that both individual states and the international community must examine now in order to manage appropriately the repercussions of the practice of sex selection in the future.

I. AN OVERVIEW OF SEX SELECTIVE PROCEDURES

A. Medical vs. Non-Medical Sex Selection

Sex-selection procedures can be divided into two analytical categories: (1) procedures done for medical reasons; and (2) procedures done for non-medical, elective reasons. While there is some debate among doctors, ethicists, and the general public about the level of medical necessity that should justify a sex-selection procedure, most accept that sex selection for medical reasons is beyond ethical reproach, and in some situations, should even be encouraged. (9) However, elective, non-medical sex-selection, which is often performed for social or financial reasons, is the subject greater scrutiny and impassioned ethical debate. (10)

Currently, doctors and geneticists are able to diagnose more than five hundred separate medical conditions in a developing fetus. …

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