Why Would You Want To Be Able To Choose?
In some areas of the world, throughout history, baby girls have been abandoned or even killed. Some parents just want to choose because they already have a child of one gender and would like the second baby to be either the other gender, or the same one.
Others wish to choose because they are frightened that their child will inherit a disease that is passed on through the genes.
How Gender Is Determined
We are made up from billions of cells. Every single cell contains a nucleus. In each nucleus there is information, making that cell what it is – it could be a hair cell, a skin cell, part of an organ or any part of our bodies.
The information in the nucleus of the cell is contained in DNA. DNA and proteins make up chromosomes in the cell nucleus. Chromosomes are long, twisted strings of genes. Each string of genes carries information. Half of it comes from the Mother and half from the Father.
Every human cell has 46 chromosomes, in pairs – so there are 23 pairs of chromosomes. The 23 pairs consist of 22 pairs of autosomes (chromosomes that don’t determine sex) and a single pair of sex chromosomes. The pairs of sex chromosomes consist of combinations of X and Y and it is this combination that determines the gender.
It is the Y chromosome which actually determines gender. Males have one Y and one X. Females have two – XX. If a Y sperm fertilizes the Mother’s egg (ovum) then the child will be a boy. If an X sperm fertilizes it, the child will be a girl.
We inherit all genetic information from our parents. Sometimes, an embryo will inherit a combination of genes that includes an illness from a parent or ancestor. For that reason, some parents want their offspring to be genetically tested to see if they will be sufferers or carriers of the illness. This is done by something called PGD.
What Is PGD?
It stands for Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis. In this process, an embryo is produced by means of in-vitro fertilization (IVF). The embryo is then tested on the third day after fertilization, when it only consists of 8 cells. The sex of the embryo is determined by PGD and the genetic make up is studied. Genes contain chromosomes and it is the combination of chromosomes, inherited from both parents, which determine whether the child may suffer from illnesses such as Tay-Sachs disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Sickle Cell Anemia, Huntington’s chorea or many other inherited issues. The embryo can also be checked for Down’s syndrome.
PGD is also used to check gender to help with the parents’ choice, when there are no medical reasons for dong so. PGD is said to be 99% accurate.
Whether the decision is medical or not, once the Physicians and parents are happy with the selection, the embryo is then implanted into the uterus and if implantation is successful, the pregnancy continues.
A company which offers this in the United States is called Microsort.
Although this is a boon to genuinely worried parents, it does raise some ethical questions. The IVF procedure costs almost $20,000, which is a lot of money and a huge loss if the embryo fails to implant in the Mother’s uterus. And this is a real risk. Sadly, 57% of IVF inseminations fail. The failure is not only measured in financial loss. Prospective parents have to undergo a series of tests and procedures which may leave them emotionally drained. The loss of an embryo on top of that can be devastating.
Embryos that are not chosen for insemination are frozen for potential use later on, which brings yet more questions, too complicated to be addressed here.
Other Methods for Pre-Determining the sex of your baby
The Ericsson Method
Doctor Ronald Ericsson is a pioneer in the field. He developed a process for gender selection called the Ericsson Albumin Method and owns the patent on it. This is said to work by separating genders at the sperm stage, before the egg is even fertilized. The method relies on the idea that sperm which produce male babies swim faster than those that produce girls. The ‘albumin’ part comes from part of the process where sperm are made to swim through albumin, a dense water-soluble protein liquid which is sticky like egg white. The theory is that in a given time, more sperm with Y chromosomes (which are needed for a male embryo) will swim through than X ones ( which are needed for a female embryo. The sperm are then made to swim through again, so that the Y’s and X’s can be separated. Depending on the gender preference of the parents, the sperm is then inseminated into the Mother’s uterus.
This method claims 78 to 85% effectiveness for a boy and 73 to 75% for a girl. This method has not been clinically proven.
This method was developed in the 1960’s. Landrum B. Shettles agrees with Ericsson that sperm with the Y chromosome are faster than those with the female X but he also thinks that they are more fragile and because of this, they die more easily. This method relies on the idea that sperm carrying the female X chromosome are slower but more robust. Shettles believes that this makes them more able to survive the acidic environment of the cervix. He advocates that the timing and position of intercourse may influence that environment so that you enhance the chances of obtaining a baby of the desired gender.
According to this method, you should have sex 2 – 4 days before ovulation to have a girl and if you would like a boy, have sex as close to ovulation as you can. The effectiveness is said to be 50 – 75% accurate. Since nature gives you 50/50, this isn’t a huge improvement.
Created by Elizabeth Whelan, this method is in direct contradiction to the Shettles Method. Whelan advocates having sex 4 – 6 days before ovulation for a girl and as close to ovulation as possible for a boy. She advises the use of an ovulation testing kit for optimum success. Whelan also believes that diet plays a part and suggests salty foods like bacon and salted chips as well as lots of carbohydrates for a boy. For a girl, keep the salt low and eat dairy, ice cream and fruit juice.
This method claims 68% success rate for boys and 56% for girls although – as with the previous two methods – the results are disputed by medical experts.
Sex Selection Home Kits
You can buy a girl or boy kit. Each includes a thermometer (temperature goes up at the time of ovulation), test sticks for predicting when ovulation is about to occur, vitamins, herb extracts and douches. The douches are intended to change the environment of the cervix to encourage the desired gender.
The makers of these kits say that they have a 96% success rate but the American Society for Reproductive Medicine doesn’t agree. Some experts say that there is no scientific basis for these claims.
The PGD Boom
According to a survey carried out by the Genetics and Public Policy Center in 2006, nearly three quarters of all fertility clinics in the United States now offer PGD. The survey also found that around 4 – 6% of all IVF now includes PGD.
If you are considering PGD, you might find the following information helpful:
Although it’s widely available, the majority of clinics will only offer PGD if
1. There is a verifiable family history of genetically inherited disease
2. A verifiable history of several miscarriages (unless the Mother is over the age of 38).
The non-medical choosing of gender (called ‘elective gender selection’) is currently banned in Britain and Canada and is opposed by most large medical groups in the United States.
The American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) advise that gender selection for non-medical cases should only be offered in very carefully selected cases. For this reason, most clinics will only offer ‘elective gender selection’ if you already have one child or more, for the purposes of ‘family balancing’.
We hope that this has helped to explain about gender selection and to give you an idea of what’s available.
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