A Right to Choose?
There's no consensus on the propriety of "family balancing," as it's called in the fertility industry. A recent survey conducted by the Genetics and Public Policy Center, a division of Johns Hopkins University's Berman Bioethics Institute, found that only 40 percent of respondents supported sex selection for nonmedical reasons. "The idea that you could pick future offspring to meet certain design specifications is troublesome to a lot of people," says Kathy Hudson, PhD, the center's founder and director.
Even our nation's medical organizations are divided on the issue. Both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose using sex selection for "family balancing," claiming the practice serves no medical purpose. But the American Society for Reproductive Medicine -- the organization most fertility doctors look to for ethical guidance -- has given the nod to sperm-sorting methods like MicroSort. (The organization does not endorse postconception techniques like PGD that entail the potential destruction of embryos.)
President Bush's Council on Bioethics keeps a close eye on issues like these, but so far it hasn't made any policy recommendations. "We're concerned about the potential for eugenics -- the notion that the human race can be improved through genetics and selective breeding," says Gilbert Meilaender, PhD, a member of the council and an ethics professor at Valparaiso University, in Indiana. While scientists say we're still far from being able to choose characteristics such as intelligence, hair color, or height, critics say sex selection has us sliding down a slippery slope.