Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Will cheap gender tests lead to sex-selective abortions?

Posted By on Wed, Aug 10, 2011 at 2:42 PM

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My wife comes from a long line of women who were only children, and who were all hell-raising teenagers. I am confident that when we decide to have a kid, that child will be a hell-raising daughter just like her mother, her grandmother, and her great grandmother. I am not particularly looking forward to dealing with a daughter who hits puberty at 11 and begins chasing boys with as much zeal as I chased soccer balls at the same age. While part of me would much rather have a shy boy who does not hit puberty until 18, I will love my daughter, even when she starts dating a drummer with way too many tattoos. However, with over-the-counter gender tests soon to be as accessible and accurate as home pregnancy tests, some people fear that expecting parents will use these tests to choose the sex of their offspring through gender-selective abortions.

All of the man-made problems facing the world—global warming, pollution, depleted resources—are exacerbated by overpopulation. In countries like China and India that are already feeling the immediate effects of overpopulation, families are given economic incentives to have small families. Unfortunately, many families in these countries prefer their only child to be a male heir. As a result the orphanages are overloaded with abandoned girls and some families even opt to abort female fetuses.

Expecting families can currently go online to order home gender tests, or a pregnant mother can send her blood to a lab. These tests can be important when screening for sex-specific genetic diseases. Other couples simply want to know their baby's sex so they can start picking names or planning the child's bedroom. Unfortunately there are also those who want to choose their child's sex through selective abortion.

One day soon expecting parents will be able to buy gender-tests with ease. Couples must still wait at least seven months after conception for the tests to be accurate, but this is still well within the legal time frame that a woman can have an abortion. The legislature may pass laws prohibiting gender-selective abortions and expecting couples may be required to take the test via a doctor, but none of these measures will ultimately stop gender-selective abortions. The only thing that will is for these couples to realize the futility of believing they know what genes will benefit their children most in the world of tomorrow.

The inherent flaw with gender-selective abortion is the illusion of control. If a couple is so concerned about the gender of their offspring that they are willing to abort a fetus of the "wrong" sex, this couple is not ready to be parents. Even if the child is a boy, this does not mean he will be straight, or that he will have kids to carry on the family name, or that he will be a football star just like his father. If a couple becomes parents believing they can choose what kind of child they will have, the only thing they can count on is having a child who resents them.

Gender selection is just the start of a larger debate regarding genetic selection. We are not that far away from scientists being able to isolate and combine specific sperm and eggs which carry "ideal" genes. What parent would not want the best for their child: straight teeth, perfect eye sight, a high IQ, or even a genetic immunity to AIDS? This is similar to what Hitler was trying to do with his master race. The inherent flaw with selecting your child's genes is the delusion that parents know what will be best for their offspring in this ever changing world.

Evolution is not a process of perfecting a species, but rather helping a species adapt to their environment. How "fit" a species is changes with its surroundings. By selecting the sex, or even the genes of our offspring, we are assuming we know what genes will make our offspring best suited to thrive in a changing environment. But what happens when "ideal genes" like blonde hair and blue eyes also leave a person more susceptible to the latest plague that culls the global population?

For a modern example, consider China, which currently has exponentially more men than women. While the culture may have traditionally favored men, the lack of women has increased the social value of the female sex. Now even women who come from poor backgrounds can be much more selective when choosing a partner. In this sense, some poor families may have actually given their child a social advantage by keeping their female offspring. Think about it like this: in a hive of male bees, the single female becomes queen.

The only way to thrive in a world of change, is to be open to change and chance, to roll the dice and adapt to whatever the world throws your way. No matter how much you try to control for and plan your child's future, only one thing is certain: he or she will be nothing like you expected.

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