Revisiting the Baby Gender Mentor

Steve Inskeep talks with NPR's Nell Boyce about the controversial Baby Gender Mentor. The product is marketed with the claim that it can determine the sex of a baby early in a pregnancy with a high degree of accuracy. Some clients disputed that claim.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Here's an update on a controversial genetic test known as the Baby Gender Mentor. This test got a huge amount of publicity because it claimed to use just a few drops of an expectant mother's blood to tell her the sex of her baby at just five weeks of pregnancy. And the company that made it claimed it was 99.99 percent accurate.

Thousands of women bought the product.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And then in September, NPR's Nell Boyce reported that some clients and scientists were raising serious questions about this test. When Nell did her story, the company's president, C.N. Wang, would not talk on the record. A spokesman sent the following email at the time, read here by an actor.

Unidentified Actor: Dr. Wang has decided to defer all his interviews regarding Baby Gender Mentor Product and Service for one ore year, when the results of actual births compared to the results provided by Baby Gender Mentor should answer any concern of the accuracy of the test.

INSKEEP: Okay, it hasn't been quite a year, but we have been tracking the cases of seven women who took this test and have since actually given birth. NPR's Nell Boyce joins us once again. Good morning.

NELL BOYCE reporting:

Thanks, nice to be here.

INSKEEP: So of these seven women, how many had an accurate result on their test?

BOYCE: Well, we actually have been looking at a lot of women. After we aired the story we got e-mails from a couple dozen women who said that the results from this genetic test they had bought from the company, Acu-Gen Biolabs, were different than the ultrasound they got when they went to their doctor's office. And so far I've talked with seven families who say that they've had their baby and it's what the sonogram said, not what this company said.

INSKEEP: Every single time the test said, for example, that it was a boy and a girl came out.

BOYCE: Well, some women have gotten accurate results, but the thing is, even if the company was just flipping a coin, you know, you would have some women who got the right answer and some women who got the wrong answer. So we can't, from this, make any real conclusion about the real accuracy of the test.

INSKEEP: So what we know here is that sometimes the test has been accurate, but at least seven people who contacted you because they were concerned, can now prove definitively that the test was wrong for them.

BOYCE: Yes, although I think if you go to the company, they will continue to insist that that doesn't mean their test was wrong. For example, sometimes they say that they might have detected a twin, it might have originally been a twin pregnancy and one of the twins might have vanished.

INSKEEP: Okay, this is anecdotal evidence. Is there any scientific evidence that would prove that this test is 99.9 percent accurate or not really accurate at all?

BOYCE: Well, the company claims that it's tested this in thousands of women and followed them to their births and they said that's how they got the 99.9 percent accuracy number, but they've never made this data public. Because this is a non-medical test, it's not required to go through the same sort of regulatory approval where you'd have an independent group looking at the data.

Now, scientific experts we've talked to have said that even though there is some science behind this test in the sense that fetal DNA can sort of leak into the mother's bloodstream and be detected and tested, they say that what this company is claiming, very high accuracy at such an early part of the pregnancy, is not really consistent with the state of the art in science. They're saying this thing's almost too good to be true.

INSKEEP: Now, as we heard, the company president said in effect, call me back when these women have given birth. Did you call him back?

BOYCE: We tried. We called. We emailed. We faxed.

INSKEEP: And?

BOYCE: He stands by his test.

INSKEEP: And is this test still being sold? Is it still going off the shelves in the same way that it was last year?

BOYCE: Well, I don't know if in exactly the same way, but it's definitely still being sold. In fact, one of these women who just had her babies, told me that when she was sitting in the delivery room she was just kind of flipping through a pregnancy magazine and she saw an advertisement for the, you know, Acu-Gen Baby Gender Mentor, and she just felt kind of mad. I mean, some of these women feel that they've been taken for a ride at a very sort of emotional and special time of their life, and that anger is what's fueling a class action lawsuit that's being filed.

A law firm in New Jersey called Gainey & McKenna has signed up about 40 people to sue the company. One of the things they're alleging is that the money-back guarantee has changed. The company had said, well, you can trust us because if we're wrong, we'll give you 200% your money back. Now that the babies are actually being born, they're being a little more rigorous about what they're requiring.

In some cases they're telling women, you have to send us a sample of your baby's blood so we can compare it to what we have on file to make sure that you're not trying to defraud us.

INSKEEP: NPR's Nell Boyce. Thanks very much for your reporting on this.

BOYCE: Thank you.

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