Gender Selection More Possible, But Controversial

ByABC News
April 14, 2004, 1:13 PM

April 26 -- Jose and Claudia Quintero of Miami, Fla., already had three daughters and wanted a boy to round out their family. Lisa Kreshock of Leonard, Mich., had a strong yearning to add a daughter to her and her husband's family of two boys when she lost her mother to Alzheimer's disease.

Thanks to modern technology, both couples got what they wanted.

Since Dolly, the cloned sheep, was born in 1997 and jolted the world with the controversial possibilities of genetic manipulation, scientists have been talking about moral dilemmas we may face in the future, from human cloning to designer children.

Some say the ability to select the gender of unborn children marks the start of that future. And while the science is here, society seems everything but settled on the implications.

"Children are the issue of our love, not the product of our wills," the members of the President's Council on Bioethics said about gender selection in a recent report.

The United Kingdom has already clamped down on the practice of pre-selecting the gender of embryos for non-medical reasons. Authorities there ruled that only families with a history of gender-linked genetic disorders could tap the technology.

"Great value should be put on the unconditional nature of parental love," Suzi Leather, head of the U.K.'s Human Fertilization & Embryology Authority,said at the time of the November 2003 ruling.

But others argue, what's the harm in choosing?

"When a couple has a strong preference for a baby boy or girl, who is injured by allowing them to choose? Certainly not the child," says Gregory Stock, director of medicine, technology and society at the University of California's School of Public Health in Los Angeles.

Sorting Sperm, Not Embryos

That argument has taken on more force now that some methods have become available which don't require the ethically thorny practice of creating and then discarding embryos of the unwanted gender.

The newer techniques sort sperm, rather than embryos.