Gender selection: An ethical dilemma

by Maria Georgakopoulou, MSc alumni in Bioeconomy / International Hellenic University

Genetic research has grown rapidly the last twenty years, showing great advances in the diagnosis and treatment of genetic disorders. Contemporary reproductive medicine has the ability to ensure reliable gender selection treatment. However, applying in real life the scientific improvements raises notable ethical issues among scientists, bioethicists and the public opinion, especially because we have to deal with procedures with direct application on embryos.

Gender selection has three main cores: as already mentioned it is very often observed as the outcome or essential part of a certain genetic diagnostic technique, with the aim of preventing disorders affecting children of a determined sex. However, apart from medical reasons, couples may express the wish to specify the sex of their offspring for reasons of family balance· this means that they prefer to have a child of a determined sex as they already have children of the other. In addition, cultural and socioeconomic reasons, favor the preference of male embryos, especially in countries of Asia, such as India and China.

Gender selection generates a series of medical, ethical, legal and societal implications. A series of legally binding, international legislation systems as well as legal provisions of national origin, in compliance with European or global conventions and directives, create much controversy in the field of gender preference. The reasons are mainly social and moral, as selecting a certain gender, let alone for no medical reasons, automatically reduces the social value of the other in the social complex, with the rule being against the females who tend to face a constant underestimation and undervalue. Therefore, and very importantly, we create serious violations in the field of the human rights, with racial and sexual discrimination, as well as sexist stereotypes. This situation leads not only to prejudice but also to gender imbalance, as the natural sex ratio is severely distorted.

The public controversy finds supporters in all aspects of the matter, making things more difficult and complicated. Parental autonomy and reproductive liberty of the parents on the one hand, fight against the rights of the unborn embryos created through IVF, the risks of the procedures to the embryo and the possibility of social gender prejudgments and bias, on the other. It has been observed that in cases with no medical emergency or indication, parental wish of sex determination causes immense conflict with the public opinion. Critics consider gender selection ethically problematic and harmful to the society and the individuals, as it is prone to reinforce and propagate sexism. A notable portion considers that gender selection is approaching eugenics methods and promotes “designer babies”, and for these reasons, strongly opposes the practice.

The use of technology for no-essential applications, which do not refer to medical conditions and other health-related problems is the most dangerous outcome of the genetic methods. There is concern that lately parents seek control over insignificant characteristics of their children, creating possibly further psychological burden to the selected offspring.

 Regulatory bodies and legal provisions that will regard the matter with respect to all opinions, recognizing its complexity and sensitivity for the needs of the modern society are needed, in order to set the boundaries of what is moral and ethical towards what is legal and socially acceptable. Undoubtedly gender equality seems to be at risk and it is necessary to spread into the society the notion that the children of both genders are equally valuable and capable. The social roles should not be dictated by the gender and for this reason, parents should be liberated from stereotypical concepts and roles, so as to stop sexist and prejudicial stereotypes. The technologies involved are expected to grow further in the near future, changing radically the scenery as we perceive it today. What is important is that parents, clinicians, bioethicists and the public should be aware of the complexities of this moral debate, having in mind the alteration of the society and the constant changing of opinions regarding the ethics in matters of great significance.

We are grateful to Ms Georgakopoulou for kindly providing the original article.

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