Bioethics Blogs

A Delicate Balancing Act August 27, 2015 Restricting the use of sex selection technologies w…

August 27, 2015

by Sean Philpott-Jones

There has been a lot of discussion about fertility treatments in both the popular press and the medical literature of late.

This discussion has been driven in part by debates about the Affordable Care Act, including questions as to whether or not it should cover fertility treatment for socioeconomically disadvantaged prospective parents. But the discussion has also been driven by recent announcements by companies like Facebook and Apple that they will begin offering cryopreservation of eggs to female employees as part of their health-insurance plans.

Adding to the debate over reproductive rights is a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, which purported that an increasing number of patients are seeking fertility treatment not because they are having difficulty getting pregnant but rather for the purposes of sex-selection. Specifically, they want to choose the sex of their child.

There are some valid medical reasons why prospective parents might want to choose the sex of their child. For instance, they may want to have a girl if they are known to be carriers of diseases like hemophila or Duchenne muscular dystrophy.  These diseases are linked to genes that are located on the X-chromosome, and they affect males almost exclusively. The mother, who carries two copies of the X-chromosome, is unaffected. So are her daughters, although they too may be carriers of the trait. Her sons, however, only have one copy of the X-chromosome and thus have a 1-in-2 chance of inheriting these severe disorders.

But in the absence of a known risk of transmitting a serious X-linked disease, the only reasons for seeking fertility treatment for the purposes of sex-selection are likely to be social, and there in lies the issue.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.