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gender selection ETHICS
History attests to the fact that couples from Royal families down to rural peasants have shown preference for a male child leading to numerous problems for the girl child and creating a sex ratio imbalance in some traditional societies. When preference for a male child is more pronounced and obvious, any method that can allow a couple to choose the gender of their unborn child is likely to create tremendous potential for gender discrimination and sex-ratio imbalance. Sex-selection or gender-selection as it is commonly known as is one such method that threatens to put female children at risk of being outnumbered by their male counterparts. The pre-conception gender selection techniques along with some other means of choosing the gender of the unborn child has come under severe criticism because of the ethical issues they raise. We must understand that while preference for a specific sex is limited or mild in the United States and other western countries, it is nonetheless present and may appear in several cases in subtle ways. However the preference for a male child is more pronounced and unmistakable in traditional societies of China and India.
Both contemporary medicine and folklore reveal a widespread social desire to attain children of a preferred sex. Discussions of sex selection have been traced as far back as 2000 B.C. In China. Until very recently the only sure way to achieve it was through infanticide. This method was followed in the 1970s with fetal sexing and sex-selective abortion. By the 1990s it became possible to detect the sex of an embryo ex-utero and, it is claimed, to sort male- and female-determining sperm. In many cases, sex selection per se is not the primary aim of contemporary reproductive technologies but instead is a necessary or accompanying factor in prenatal diagnosis and the identification of male fetuses or embryos at risk of sex-linked disorders. Worldwide, however, these technologies are increasingly being used to identify, select, and, in some cases, destroy embryos that display no other "defect" than the fact of being female." (Mathiot-Moen: 23)
Sex-selection raises some serious ethical issues, which cannot be discarded or dismissed as mere unfounded fears. There have been several cases especially in Asian and African societies that attest to the validity of these concerns. The first most important ethical concern is the preference for male child that has been exhibited by many societies and is believed to exist across cultures. In India for example, one author maintains that if given a choice, every couple would first want a male child. "No one wants girls" (quoted in Gargan, 1991, p. 1). Similarly in China, the one-child policy led to severe sex-ratio imbalance, as couples were "fearful of 'wasting' their quota on a girl Most people in rural China would use ultrasound method to discover the gender and abort the fetus if child was found to be a female. Since pre-conception gender selection method is not largely available in these traditional societies, they use other slightly older method for gender-selection. "Chinese peasants use ultrasound to have sons" (Kristof, 1993b, p. A1, A6).
Ethicist John Fletcher believes that new gender-selection techniques result from abuse of advanced medical technology. There is no specific technique that was originally developed exclusively for gender selection. The prenatal diagnosis was actually intended to discover possible health risks or genetic defects faced by unborn children of parents with troubled medical histories. However this method is now being used for non-medical purposes such as gender selection and this is simple and clear abuse of medical technologies. "Gender is not a disease. Prenatal diagnosis for a non-medical reason makes a mockery of medical ethics" (Wertz and Fletcher, 1989a, p. 24).
Fletcher (1980) cited his reasons for opposing sex selection in these words:
prenatal diagnosis was developed to detect disease, and sex is not a disease.
Sex-selective abortion in a male-preferring society could contribute to social inequality and bias against women.
Sex choice is an ethically frivolous reason to abort. • Amniocentesis (then the only available method] was a scarce resource that was not yet available to all women who had medical reasons to have it, and it was indefensible to use it for low-priority uses when higher ones went unmet. (p. 2)
Fletcher has certainly not been the only one to vehemently oppose gender selection. In recent times…[continue]
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