Will It Soon Be Acceptable to Select the Sex of Your Baby?

A recent poll by Spanish research foundation BBVA reveals that the majority of people in the developed world favor reproductive technologies like IVF. However, the majority are against using these technologies to choose the sex of children. Over at Sentient Developments, futurist George Dvorsky asks why this prejudice exists. He's "flabbergasted" that people are favor of mixing babies up in test tubes, but not in favor of choosing to implant a fertilized egg that will be male rather than female. He thinks that's just unreasonable.

He writes:

Couples in the developed world, where gender discrimination and biases are less prominent, should be allowed to use gender selection for family balancing purposes. I'm absolutely flabbergasted that this is still not a right in some countries, including Canada where couples and their doctors face the threat of large fines and jail terms.

Admittedly, not all countries are ready for sex selection; India and China certainly come to mind. But that's not our problem, nor is it an indication of how sex selection would be used here. The idea that sex selection would significantly skew the gender balance here in the developed world is terribly misguided and not based on any real evidence. Given the 2 children per couple tendency, it's highly likely that most couples would opt to have a boy and a girl.

Another argument against sex selection is that it is prejudicial by its very nature — that the very presence of preference indicates that gender biases exist and will continue to be reinforced. While this is a more nuanced argument, it fails to take into account an undeniable aspect of the human condition: we are a gendered species and gender differences do in fact exist.

I think there are a few problems with his argument here. First, nothing good can ever come of an ethics policy that policymakers claim certain countries aren't "ready for." What does that even mean? That people in India and China are too savage to make ethical choices for themselves? That's simply an unacceptable formulation.

That basic issue aside, I think the idea of picking a child's gender is so distasteful to people because it brings up the idea of designer babies. If we pick our children's sex, what else do we pick? Intelligence, hair color, sexual orientation, a propensity for making bad puns?

I tend to agree guardedly with Dvorsky about this being an outdated prejudice, simply because I think that we are heading for a world where rich people can design their own babies, and will. Now might be the time to decide what it is and isn't OK to design into a baby. Maybe, ethically speaking, picking your child's sex isn't the same kind of problem as picking her intellectual capacity or her sexual orientation. I don't claim to have the answers here, but I appreciate it when people dare to raise the questions.

[via Sentient Developments]