[Paleopsych] Reason: Sexing Babies: Will sex selection create a violent world without women?

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Sexing Babies: Will sex selection create a violent world without women?
by Ronald Bailey

    Will sex selection create a violent world without women?

    "Sex selection will cause a severe imbalance of the sexes," predicted
    left-wing sociologist Amitai Etzioni way back in 1968. Etzioni further
    prophesied that the practice would "soon" condemn millions of men to
    rape, prostitution, homosexuality, or enforced celibacy.

    More recently, Brigham Young University political scientist Valerie M.
    Hudson and University of Kent research fellow Andrea M. den Boer
    argued in their book [11]Bare Branches: The Security Implications of
    Asia's Surplus Male Population that growing [12]sex ratio imbalances
    resulting from sex selection in China will create a hoodlum army of 30
    million single men that by 2020 will be a menace to world peace.

    Sex selection in India and China is achieved chiefly through
    ultrasound scans followed by the selective abortion of female fetuses.
    The natural sex ratio is about 105 boys per 100 girls, but in India it
    is now 113 boys per 100 girls and as high as 156 boys per 100 girls in
    some regions.

    In China the sex ratio now is just shy of 120 boys per 100 girls. Both
    China and India now ban the use of abortion for sex selection. Should
    those of us living in the developed world worry about skewed sex
    ratios in our own countries? After all, all sorts of nifty new
    biomedical technologies besides selective abortions are becoming
    available to make sex selection ever more feasible.

    For example, the [13]Genetics and IVF (GIVF) Institute in Fairfax,
    Virginia, is pioneering preconception sex selection by means of a
    system that segregates sperm that will produce girls from those that
    will produce boys. Joseph Schulman, the founder of GIVF, explained how
    his clinic's [14]MicroSort sperm-segregation system works at the
    [15]First International Conference on Ethics, Science and Moral
    Philosophy of Assisted Human Reproduction at the Royal Society in
    London last week.

    MicroSort technology tags sperm bearing X chromosomes (those which
    determine females) and sperm bearing Y chromosomes (those which
    determine males) with a fluorescent dye so that they can be segregated
    into different batches. The dye harmlessly attaches to the DNA
    molecules that make up genes. Female-determining X chromosomes are
    much bigger than male-determining Y chromosomes, which means that
    human sperm carrying X chromosomes have 2.8 percent more DNA than do
    sperm with Y chromosomes.

    Thus, X-sperm soak up more of the fluorescent dye and glow more
    brightly. This difference in brightness allows flow cytometry machines
    to detect and separate the X- from the Y-bearing sperm. The
    sperm-separating technique is not perfect: According to the latest
    data, batches of sperm intended to produce males typically contain 75
    percent Y chromosome sperm. The female batches contain 91 percent X
    chromosome sperm.

    Once the sperm have been segregated, they may be used in either
    artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization to produce a child
    of the desired sex. Using sex-segregated sperm in artificial
    insemination sidesteps the contentious debate over the moral status of
    embryos, since fertilization takes place straight in the would-be
    mothers' wombs. The cost per cycle of MicroSort's service is about

    For those worried about whether such sex selection technology will
    radically skew U.S. sex ratios, Schulman's clinical data should be
    soothing. Of the more than 3,000 sperm-sorting cycles requested by
    patients, 77 percent have been seeking to produce girls. Most parents
    want to use MicroSort to achieve "family balancing," that is, to have
    a child of the opposite sex to the first one, or to balance out
    families that now have all girls or all boys.

    Another reason to use sperm segregation is to avoid the 500 or so
    inheritable X-linked diseases, such as hemophilia, that afflict boys.
    Boys are more vulnerable to these diseases because they inherit only a
    single X chromosome from their mothers, whereas girls inherit two, one
    from each parent. If there is a faulty gene on one X chromosome, the
    undamaged one on the other X chromosome shields girls from its
    deleterious effects. But boys, who have only one X chromosome paired
    with a much smaller Y chromosome, will suffer from the disease if they
    inherit the X chromosome with the faulty gene.

    More evidence that the West was unlikely to go the way of China and
    India was presented at the Royal Society conference by German
    bioethicist [16]Edgar Dahl from the University of Giessen. He cited
    updated [17]surveys from Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United
    States that found no strong gender preferences.

    In Germany, 76 percent of respondents didn't care about the sex of
    their first child, while 14 percent would prefer a boy and 10 percent
    would prefer a girl. When asked if they might consider using
    MicroSort, 94 percent of Germans rejected it out of hand. When asked
    if they might consider using cost-free magic pills, a pink one for
    girls and a blue one for boys, to select their children's sex, 92 said
    no, they'd turn down those pills.

    Seventy-three percent of Britons had no preference about the sex of
    their first-born child. Sixty-eight percent of Britons would like to
    have equal numbers of girls and boys in their families, compared to
    only 30 percent of Germans. A majority of Americans did express a
    preference about the sex of their first-born: 39 percent would prefer
    a boy and 19 percent would prefer a girl. Forty-nine percent of
    Americans wanted an equal number of boys and girls in their families,
    and 18 percent could imagine taking advantage of MicroSort-type sex
    selection service.

    Dahl argued that the only valid justification for limiting parents'
    liberty to select their children's sex might be a clear and present
    threat that a society's sex ratio is about to become radically
    unbalanced. "In the West, there is no evidence at all that there is a
    threat to the sex ratio," Dahl concluded. So Etzioni's dire
    predictions have proven to be wrong; allowing parents in the West
    access to sex selection won't result in bands of violent horny young
    men whose only access to sex is rape, prostitution, or homosexuality.

    During the question-and-answer period at the Royal Society conference,
    a physician from India claimed that if MicroSort became widely
    available in his country, 90 percent of parents would choose to have
    only boys. Thus, he argued, sex selection should be banned there.
    However, the physician noted that skewed sex ratios seem to be a
    problem chiefly in the Hindu community. Indian Muslim and Christian
    sex ratios were close to the natural rate. He also noted that in
    families in which the women were literate, the sex ratios are also
    close to the natural rate. "That seems to me to make a strong case,
    not for banning sex selection, but for more and better education of
    women," replied Dahl. Seems about right to me too.
    Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His new book,
    Liberation Biology: A Moral and Scientific Defense of the Biotech
    Revolution will be published in early 2005.


    6. http://www.reason.com/rb/rb100604.shtml
    7. http://www.reason.com/rb/rb090104.shtml
    8. http://www.reason.com/rb/rb082504.shtml
    9. http://reason.com/rb/bailey.shtml
   10. mailto:rbailey at reason.com
   11. http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?tid=9963&ttype=2
   12. http://chronicle.com/free/v50/i34/34a01401.htm
   13. http://www.givf.com/
   14. http://www.microsort.com/
   15. http://www.humanreproethics.org/
   16. http://www.ihs.ox.ac.uk/perl/ethox/us160.pl?id=156
   17. http://www3.oup.co.uk/eshre/press-release/oct203.pdf

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