Many Clinics Use Genetic Diagnosis to Choose Sex

Some doctors analyze an embryo's DNA so parents can choose to have a male or female placed in the womb. Last year, a survey found that 1 of every 11 Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis treatment was for sex-selection alone. The study by Johns Hopkins University also found that 42 percent of clinics offering PGD offer it for sex selection.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

And we continue now with our examination of pre-natal genetic testing. A growing number of doctors are pushing the ethical limits of the procedure called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD.

Some say doctors are going beyond the edge of ethics. Some doctors analyze an embryo's DNA so parents can choose to have a male or female placed in the womb. Last year, a survey found that one of every 11 PGDs was for gender selection alone. That study, by Johns Hopkins University, also found that 42 percent of clinics offering PGD offer it for gender selection.

Lonny Shavelson reports.

LONNY SHAVELSON: At the Huntington Reproductive Center in Southern California, reproductive specialist Dr. Daniel Potter sits in front of a 32-year-old, anesthetized woman covered in surgical drapes.

Dr. DANIEL POTTER (Huntington Reproductive Center): And you can this needle is fairly impressive.

SHAVELSON: He's extracting her eggs to be fertilized outside her body, although she's capable of having a baby by natural means. She's asked him to analyze the chromosomes of her embryos and select only the males.

Dr. POTTER: Virtually 100 percent of those pregnancies will be the desired gender.

SHAVELSON: The American Society of Reproduction Medicine says PGD should be used only when there's a risk of genetic diseases, not just to select gender. Dr. Potter says he's fulfilling his patients' reproductive rights.

Dr. POTTER: It's presumptuous of any organization to try to assert that a woman should or shouldn't be able to determine the number of children she wants to have or the gender of these children.

SHAVELSON: In his afternoon clinic, Dr. Potter greets a couple originally from India.

Dr. POTTER: Today we're going to know more about how many eggs you're going to have.

SHAVELSON: The couple had an arranged marriage 15 years ago and have settled in British Columbia, where they've had two daughters conceived naturally. They've traveled here, staying in a hotel a few blocks from Disneyland while working with Dr. Potter to guarantee their next child is a boy. The couple, who do business in the Indian community, say they'd be financial ostracized if they used their names.

The husband says he wants a son to inherit their business. The wife says there'll be no one to care for them in their old age unless they have a son.

Unidentified Woman: Girls get married, and they move out, right? And with a boy, they will stay with us.

Unidentified Man: I really appreciate that she's doing so much to get a son in the family.

SHAVELSON: Sujatha Jasudussin(ph) is Indian-American and the program director at the Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland, a public affairs group that says it wants responsible use of genetic technology. She says sex selection is sex discrimination.

Ms. SUJATHA JASUDUSSIN (Center for Genetics and Society): There is a whole tone in the culture that says girls are just not as desirable.

SHAVELSON: Twenty-five percent of the patients who come to Dr. Potter for gender selection are foreign born. Of those from India, Korea and China, he says 90 percent ask him for boys. That adds up to six boys a month in just his clinic, and while there have been no scientific reports on which sex is chosen in all PGD clinics, one study found that while most patients doing IVF would select boys or girls equally, there was a significant preference for girls. Dr. Potter says that of his American born patients, 80 percent ask for girls, and they tell him why.

Dr. POTTER: It's about the woman desiring to have the relationship that she had with her mother, seeing their daughter walk down the aisle, going shopping with them. This potential daughter occupies a space in their consciousness just like a living human being, and for them to give up on that, it's like a death.

SHAVELSON: Whether parents want a boy or a girl because of gender stereotypes, ethnic traditions or simply because they have one sex and want the other, it's the intensity of that desire that's motivated doctors in many PGD clinics to take it from a procedure designed to detect genetic defects to one that selects boys or girls.

For NPR News, I'm Lonny Shavelson.

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