I’m always on the lookout for remunerative ways to spend my time. There yesterday on the American Statistical Association jobs site was a situation for a Medical Statistician, which is me all over. Close to home, too; only two blocks away.
My enthusiasm abated after learning that the Center For Human Reproduction is running trials on diminished ovarian reserves, frozen donor egg programs, which might be okay, but also “economical” in vitro fertilization and “gender selection” which aren’t.
IVF is dicey because only about one out of every thirty embryos make it—this is after the sperm meets the egg, folks, and therefore embryos are tiny human beings—, the other twenty-nine are “sacrificed” or die en route to the womb. I’m too squeamish to contribute to studying how to make dead people, even small ones.
The “sacrificing”, i.e. the killing, is often done for reasons of eugenics. Such as in “medical” and “elective” gender selection. The CHR uses “preimplantation genetic diagnosis”, a scientific sounding term:
On the third day after fertilization, when embryos have reached 6- to 8-cells, one of the cells is removed from the embryo, to be analyzed for its chromosomal makeup. (The removal of the cell at this stage does not negatively affect the embryo’s growth competency.) This chromosomal analysis allows us to determine whether the embryo is male or female. Then, only the embryos of the desired gender are transferred to the uterus.
In plain English it means they check whether the embryo is a girl and then kill her if she is. Or kill him if it’s a boy, if that is the parents’ preference. It’s a “war on (pre) women” in most places, though: I suppose it would be interesting to do the statistics of sex-preference of upper class Manhattanites (with an eye for ever-present racial “disparities”).
I also wonder how true that parenthetical statement is. Cutting out one-eighth to one-sixth of a person sounds rather dramatic. I’d bet they didn’t carry out a definitive experiment such as expunging cells from one group of embryos and leaving another group intact and then watching what happens. You’d have to watch for a lifetime to be sure of no deleterious effects, such as increased cancer rates.
They don’t just kill embryos because of their sex. They also whack them if they suspect “sex-linked diseases.” These
are inherited via the mother but only male offspring are affected (muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, etc.). In other cases, conditions are more severely expressed in one gender (Fragile X syndrome, autism in males, etc.) than the other.
Understand: they are not testing whether the embryo is (say) autistic, and then washing it down the sewers if it is, though there’s nothing redeeming in that practice—plus, there is no reliable way to tell—they are killing the male embryo because it’s more often boys than girls who develop autism.
That means the “disease of the week” (whatever is featured on TV talk shows) can lead nervous parents to request babies of the sex least effected. If you think not, then you weren’t paying attention to the recent vaccination-and-autism panic, which is only now waning. It’s also curious that all the maladies listed are those typically found in boys. So maybe in Manhattan, unlike the rest of the world, it’s a “war on men”.
Anyway, sex selection isn’t illegal here (they advise “patients” in countries where the practice is illegal to pay them a visit). But there are murmurings and skittishness among politicians and the public; the practice makes most uneasy. Laws might be passed. Much of the verbiage of the CHF page therefore is preemptive; they give medical- and scientific-sounding justifications to salve consciences and stave off lawmakers. Consider:
Medical reasons for gender selection can, however, also be psychological: a single female may feel better equipped having a daughter than a son; parents who lost a child may feel a strong need for a child of the same gender…
The most frequent indication for such gender selection is “family balancing,” when one gender is already represented in the family unit and the other gender is desired.
“Indication” has a nice medical ring to it. And if you can’t get the public to swallow the “might be” justification (might be autistic, might be a hemophiliac, etc.), then you can always find a shrink to claim mental distress. A “single female” who feels “better equipped” to have a daughter rather than a son probably isn’t equipped to deal properly with either. But I am not a psychologist, so I could be wrong.
I am however a bioethicist, and in that capacity I was fascinated the CHF anticipated single females. Who needs men?