The gender selection of infants has been one of the more controversial commercial scientific fields to emerge in the last few decades. Much of the truth about sexual selection has been tainted by false information and certain groups who desire to perpetuate myths without addressing the facts.
For example, our media has snidely labeled infants that have undergone PGD as “designer babies”.
Meanwhile, fertility clinics struggle to promote gender selection in a way that escapes public scrutiny, which is why such procedures are often advertised under more the politically correct phrase “family balancing”.
Many people question why parents would want one sex over the other and condemn users as sexist, even though a family’s decision may be rooted in the safety of their infant.
However, not all methods are created equal, here are the choices available for gender selection for fertility treatment.
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Why Do Couples Choose Gender Selection?
It’s every couple’s personal choice to pursue gender selection options when undergoing IVF or IUI. But how a couple comes to this decision is vastly different. Some reasons for choosing a gender selection option include:
-Already having multiple children of the same gender and wanting to assure they have the opposite gender
-The couple is from a culture or religion that favors males as the first-born
-A couple already had a previous IVF and know they can only afford another IVF, therefore they want two children of the opposite sex
-The couple is older and prefer to have a certain gender
-A couple may have lost a previous child and want the same gender of the child they lost
Related Articles: 6 Lessons I Learned From Infertility
Genetic Selection Options Explained
Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD)
Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, has become the most talked about gender selection techniques in recent years. It has a near 100% success rate and must be paired with In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
IVF is inherently controversial because it frequently involves discarding embryos, which some critics have found to be tantamount to abortion.
However, for some parents, IVF can be their only hopes at conceiving a child who shares their DNA. To perform PGD, a typical IVF procedure must first be initiated.
Certain hormones are administered to the prospective mother over a period of time to induce her ovaries to release more eggs than average. These eggs are surgically collected and isolated into containers in the lab. The desired male’s sperm is then exposed to the eggs and they are fertilized.
At approximately 3 days post fertilization, a single cell is taken from the embryo using a very tiny pipette. Genetic analysis is then performed on these cells to determine the embryo’s risk of developing devastating diseases such as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and Cystic Fibrosis.
At this time, the sex of the embryos can also be determined.
The parents then select which embryos they want implanted, which will then grow in the mother’s womb as in a typical pregnancy and from there develop into a child.
The unimplanted embryos can then be either frozen, which will save them to be used later, or discarded. Frozen embryos have an equal success rate at implantation as non-frozen ones.
The PGD technique is widely available for parents who carry the genes for certain diseases but in general is not offered to parents who simply want to choose the sex of their infant. As stated earlier, sexual selection of an infant that results in the termination of an embryo is extremely controversial.
Media reports often compare parents who use PGD solely for gender selection to parents in China who abort female children.
Additionally, this method is extremely expensive. PGD alone costs $5,000 on average, and IVF is at least an additional $15,000. These values can be more or less depending on a patient’s area and physician.
There are numerous other technologies available that do not involve embryos and instead rely on sperm sorting. One of the earliest procedures invented was the Ericsson Method, named after its creator.
This is the nominal “sperm sorting” technique that is rumored to have a 76% success rate, though some studies suggest this is an over-statement. Unlike PGD, this technique does not use IVF.
Instead, fertilization is achieved using intrauterine insemination, or IUI, which is where sperm is mechanically deposited directly into a potential mother’s uterus to achieve conception.
For the Ericsson technique, sperm from the father is collected and then sorted in a tube containing an oily, albumin substance. Sperm is responsible for sexual differentiation since a single sperm can carry either an “X” or a “Y” chromosome while all eggs possess an “X”.
Children with “XY” chromosomes develop into males, while “XX” children develop into females. All sperms possess the same tail-like propelling mechanism, but since the X chromosome is much larger than the Y chromosome, the “female” sperm are overburdened by their load and swim slower compared to the “male” sperm which swim faster.
Therefore at the end of the sorting, the sperm hoard that has traveled to the bottom of the tube is usually male while the higher group is generally female.
Although less successful than PGD, the Ericsson method is significantly cheaper at only $600.
A method that is often confused with the Ericsson method is the gradient method, that uses centrifugation to separate sperm cells by comparative weight.
Theoretically, female sperms cells containing the heavier X chromosome should centrifuge to the bottom of the container while the Y sperm should form a discrete band somewhere above the bottom.
Although this technique is pricey at around $2000, most scientific studies have reported that it does not sort sperm by gender at all and insemination with this technique is equal to chance when determining child gender.
Flow cytometry can also be used to sort male from female sperm. This method uses a laser to sort sperm based on the size of the genetic content they carry.
The genetic material of the sperm is first dyed. Then, a special laser separates the sperm cells based on the amount of dye they carry, since the X chromosome carriers will have significantly more dye than the Y carriers.
Finally, the sperm sample enriched with either male or female carriers can be used in IUI.
This method is often advertised under the brand name “Microsort” and has an over 75% success rate for producing a child with the chosen gender.
It does not result in any discarded embryos, making the procedure a popular choice amongst individuals who have objections to PGD. It is also a cheaper option, costing on average only$ 3,400.
Deciding on whether to perform gender selection on offspring is a deeply personal choice that is not for every couple. There are people who revel in the idea of having some control over a process that is always extremely unpredictable. Others find all methods of gender selection to be unethical.
While no single person can definitively determine the morality of gender selection, there is no question that as long as the procedure is offered, there are going to be families who will opt to choose the sex of their child.