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Defending life from the moment of conception

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What’s wrong with gender selection?

Posted by Peter Kolbe on 13 September 2012

There seems to have been a flurry of media coverage on gender selection recently. An article in the Evening Standard quoted the British (Cambridge) trained Dr Steinberg claiming that he had helped around 400 couples choose the gender of their child.

The Daily Mail reported that Dr Steinberg currently sees around 40 British couples a year charging around £30,000 each, and the Daily Telegraph quoted him claiming he has even assisted some UK politicians:

"I have had leading British politicians from the UK coming here, to this office, for services that are outlawed in the UK"

This is rather concerning because sex selection is illegal in the UK under the 1990 and 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which states that reproductive technologies "cannot authorise any practice designed to secure that any resulting child will be of one sex rather than the other". In the Evening Standard a description of the process is provided:

"We harvest on average around of 10 eggs, of which eight or nine will be successfully fertilised," says Dr Steinberg. "We biopsy the fertilised eggs, and will lose at least half from genetic abnormalities. Then half of those remaining are going to be the wrong gender, so we will be left with just one two of the gender we want, to implant"

On the clinics website they say something similar:

"After 3 days, several 8-cell embryos will have developed. Our doctor-scientist specialists examine the genetic makeup of the embryos, screening for both genetic diseases and desired gender. Healthy embryos of the gender you desire are implanted in the mother. Any additional healthy embryos may be cryo-frozen for future use."

Arguing, as Dr Steinberg does, that sex-selection could lead to a decline in abortion is disingenuous. Reports from 2010 highlighted the proportion of mothers aborting their children conceived through IVF. It's argued that babies conceived through IVF are really "wanted" as the parent or parents have potentially spent a lot of money, and perhaps been through several cycles of IVF and the associated procedures. Prof Bill Ledger, a member of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulates fertility treatment, said: "I had no idea there were so many post-IVF abortions and each one is a tragedy."

This is concerning because each human person exists from conception. There is no such thing as a living human person with subhuman moral status and thus the destruction of embryos is intrinsically wrong.

Secondly, the issue with sex-selection is that effectively life is treated as a commodity with a pick and chose attitude to children. The child is not seen as a gift, which should be treasured no matter the gender, but as a product which should meet certain demands. How can we condemn gendercide in India and China yet allow 40 couples a year to go to America to choose the gender of their child whilst sacrificing countless embryos?

As Amanda Mitchison argued in the Guardian in 2010: "It may be only a matter of time before women are demanding PGD sex selection on the NHS. If the state will fund IVF for a baby, why not for a baby girl? Or a baby boy?" With politicians going to these clinics don't be surprised if a group of MPs get together, with the backing of embryologist researchers and fertility doctors, to legalise this. Each human life is unique, and shouldn't be designed in a lab. The Coalition Government needs to take a hard line against this, before it is too late.

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