Preconception Gender Selection: Ethical or Unethical?

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Throughout history, humans have always sought ways to predict the gender of their unborn child. Ancient wisdom suggests that specific signs may indicate a baby’s gender, such as craving sweets or having a slower heart rate for girls, and consuming salty foods, an active baby, or carrying low for boys. However, scientific progress has made these old wives’ tales obsolete by enabling us to determine the baby’s gender accurately through prenatal ultrasounds. Nowadays, individuals must decide whether they want to find out the baby’s gender before birth.

While certain people are making personal decisions, others are choosing their children’s gender. This topic seeks to examine the possibility and ethical consequences of this practice. Currently, there is a notable change in how gender is determined. Worries about eugenics and DNA alteration for gender selection have emerged. Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that gender selection already exists without DNA modification. In the United States alone, approximately 300 infants have been preselected for gender through sperm sorting.

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The technique of sperm sorting was first used in cattle to select the gender of offspring. It takes advantage of the difference in size between X and Y chromosomes, which determine the sex of an offspring. A female egg has two X chromosomes, while a male sperm can have either an X or a Y chromosome. If the inseminated sperm contains a Y chromosome, it will result in a male offspring; however, if it contains an X chromosome, it will lead to a female offspring.

The X chromosome is approximately three times larger than the Y chromosome, leading to early sperm sorting techniques utilizing this size difference for separation. The method involved collecting a sperm sample in a test tube and using a centrifuge. During centrifugation, the heavier X sperm settled at the bottom while the lighter Y sperm stayed closer to the top. However, this approach faced challenges due to frequent collisions caused by the high-speed rotation of the centrifuge.

Flow cytometry is used to minimize negative effects and improve precision in sperm sorting. It effectively solves the problem of sperm collision with each other or with the test tube wall, which could harm viable sperm cells. These advancements greatly enhance the reliability of sperm sorting, especially for those considering intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization. Both procedures involve external insemination followed by embryo implantation.

Flow cytometry is a technique that utilizes the fluorescence and light scatter characteristics of cells to quickly distinguish between them. The process involves suspending individual cells in a fluid and passing them through a flow chamber, where they are directed through the center of a powerful light source. A light collection system surrounding the center region collects data on how the light is absorbed, distorted, or reflected. Measurements are taken for cell volume and electrical impedance. Using this analysis, the cells are subsequently sorted. The sample-containing stream is then oscillated and transformed into consistent droplets.

Flow cytometry is a process that compares drops with analysis data. When the drops match the desired range, they are charged and passed through an electric field. This field deflects the charged drops, separating them into two groups. Flow cytometry can process sperm quickly, at a rate of up to ten thousand a second, which is comparable to centrifuge processing time. Additionally, flow cytometry offers improved accuracy and can be measured. The accuracy of the sperm sort is evaluated using fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH).

A FISH test is done by taking a sample of the sorted sperm and exposing them to a special DNA probe. This probe attaches to either the X or Y chromosome, causing the sperm to emit a specific color. The sample is then analyzed, counting the X and Y sperm to determine the purity of the sample accurately. The Genetics & IVF Institute in Fairfax, Virginia developed and currently operates the use of flow cytometry for sperm sorting. The institute has reported the birth of more than 358 babies using their flow cytometry process named MicroSort.

Currently, Y carrying sperm can be separated with a success rate of 73%, meaning 73% of the sperm in the Y sorted group carry a Y chromosome. X carrying sperm can be separated with a success rate of 88%. Sperm sorting has resulted in a 76% success rate when trying for a male baby and a 91% success rate when trying for a girl. Sperm sorting is legal, and laws governing the use and treatment of sperm samples mainly focus on regulating frozen samples.

Most forms of artificial insemination involve freezing the sperm at some point during the process, so laws regarding frozen sperm typically apply to most procedures. Prior to freezing, sorting can be performed on the samples but not while the sperm is frozen, making sorting exempt from those regulations. However, there is a current movement in the United Kingdom to prohibit sperm sorting due to its recent national exposure. Sorting is crucial as it impacts matters like gender predetermination that affect everyone. From an ethical standpoint, sperm sorting raises several concerns that need to be tackled.

There are three potential approaches for addressing this issue, which I will analyze from various ethical viewpoints. One possibility is to prohibit sperm sorting entirely. Another option is to permit limited use of sperm sorting, but determining the criteria for allowing or disallowing the process would need consideration. A third alternative is to endorse unrestricted sperm sorting. Utilitarianism aims to maximize overall good and minimize harm. In my perspective, completely prohibiting sperm sorting is not justified from a utilitarian standpoint.

By banning sorting, we do not improve the situation compared to not using it and we risk causing harm. Think about a situation where a couple wants to have a child, but the father carries a genetic disorder caused by a Y chromosome (like Duchene muscular dystrophy). Sperm sorting provides a safe method for them to significantly enhance their chances of having a healthy child. This instance suggests that allowing some use of sperm sorting to prevent genetic disorders would be reasonable.

In terms of utilitarianism, I find it unjustifiable to fully permit sperm sorting. The benefit generated by preventing genetic disorders in a few extremely specific instances is greatly overshadowed by the potential negative consequences it might impose on society. There are foreseeable issues, such as the possibility that parents may not receive the desired gender of their child (for which they have paid). This could potentially lead to the termination of the baby or mistreatment of the child during their crucial developmental years. Considering utilitarian principles, my judgment is to allow sperm sorting solely in cases involving genetic disorders.

From a rights perspective, it is crucial to acknowledge the importance of individual rights. This viewpoint argues that completely banning sperm sorting would violate the rights of both unborn children and parents. Unborn children have the right to be healthy and avoid genetic disorders, while parents have the right to have a healthy child. However, it seems fairer to limit sperm sorting only in cases where there are genetic defects, in order to protect everyone’s rights. The remaining question is whether individuals should have the right to choose their child’s gender.

If sperm sorting is allowed, it would imply that sorting should be permitted in all situations. However, I believe that choosing the gender of a baby is not a moral entitlement as it does not fulfill any inherent necessity or enhance the quality of life for parents. In terms of rights, my verdict is to allow sperm sorting only when genetic disorders are a factor. From a fairness standpoint, it is important to ensure that benefits and burdens are equitably distributed among all individuals. A complete ban on sperm sorting would maintain the current state of affairs regarding gender selection, where no one has the ability to choose.

The use of sorting technology can contribute to fairness by ensuring an even distribution of burdens away from parents currently dealing with genetic disorders that could be prevented through sorting. In small settings, fairness arguments support sorting in all cases. For example, family balancing can be achieved by using sorting technology to ensure an equal distribution of male and female children, thus enhancing fairness and giving everyone the opportunity to have the same family balance. However, it is important to consider the cost associated with sperm sorting.

People who do not have the financial means to undergo sperm sorting may experience economic disadvantages. In some countries, women require a dowry for marriage. In these situations, individuals with the ability to afford sperm sorting can guarantee having only daughters, which contributes to increasing their family’s wealth. Conversely, they can also ensure the birth of a son who will inherit family land and carry on the family name. The fairness verdict argues that completely banning sperm sorting would result in a more equal distribution of benefits and burdens within society due to the unequal distribution of wealth. From a perspective focused on the common good, decisions should be based on what promotes the overall well-being of all individuals.

When contemplating the well-being of society, one must take into account the consequences of sperm sorting on global population distribution. Presently, females make up slightly over half of the world’s population. Nevertheless, if individuals are empowered to select their offspring’s gender, it could impact this ratio. This is particularly troubling in countries like China where there exists prejudice against females leading to their abandonment or infanticide. Consequently, widespread implementation of sperm sorting has the potential to significantly alter the male-to-female balance within a population.

Evolution informs us that if the number of one gender decreases significantly, the DNA of the remaining individuals will be replicated more often. This increases the chances of exhibiting any negative traits present in that DNA and reduces the overall genetic diversity, limiting our species’ ability to adapt to an ever-changing planet. Hence, permitting sperm sorting in every situation is not beneficial for the greater good. Nevertheless, if it is feasible, eliminating genetic disorders carried through chromosomes does enhance the common good and should be permitted.

The common good verdict is that we should permit sperm sorting in cases involving genetic disorders. From a virtue perspective, we should consider the decision that would foster positive moral virtues. The primary concern from this standpoint is how choosing the gender would influence society’s perception of both genders. If society begins to favor one gender over the other, it would not promote good moral virtues. Gender preference constitutes discrimination and is not a virtue that should be promoted in society. Consequently, allowing all sperm sorting is not advisable as it carries the risk of establishing an unfavorable societal trend.

The moral justification for allowing the use of sperm sorting to prevent genetic diseases and promote equality in society may not warrant a complete ban at this time. This position aligns with Kant’s Categorical Imperative, which encourages us to act in a way that we would want everyone else to follow as a universal rule.

The categorical imperative does not adequately address the issue of choosing the gender of our children while promoting equal opportunities. Given that over 300 live births have been achieved through sperm sorting, along with the widespread use of IVF and IUI in our society, as well as the common practice of determining gender via ultrasound, it can be concluded that sperm sorting would likely be chosen as a universally applicable principle.

The total ban on sperm sorting would be abolished, granting individuals the freedom to decide how it is used. This means that sperm sorting would be allowed in all circumstances. According to the Categorical Imperative, the judgment would support permitting sperm sorting in every case. When considering moral reasoning, it becomes evident that there are four ethical perspectives favoring limited usage, while only one supports a complete prohibition or unrestricted utilization.

Unfortunately, morality cannot be quantified, and ethical decisions demand more contemplation. This, I believe, is the central challenge with the matter of sperm sorting. Superficially, it seems innocuous and even harbors great potential benefits. It does not raise concerns like eugenics and is unlikely to feature in science fiction films. Sperm sorting could seamlessly integrate into society without prior notice or discussion, merely viewed as a slight progression towards determining the sex of an unborn child. If you doubt its feasibility, consider that it is already underway.

The birth of 300 babies resulting from sperm sorting has happened, but the concerns mentioned in this paper have not been fully addressed. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that banning this method entirely would be a mistake because of its great value and effectiveness. It should continue to be an option for preventing gender chromosome-related disorders, and I advocate for making it accessible to a wide range of individuals seeking such treatments. It is essential to ensure equal opportunities for everyone to conceive healthy children. However, we must acknowledge the significant social challenges that may arise from this technology.

Although there is a possibility that selecting the gender of a child can increase the chances of parents getting their preferred gender, in approximately 10-25% of cases, this desired outcome is not achieved. If parents choose to terminate the pregnancy in such situations, concerns about the rights of the unborn child arise. It is important to acknowledge that deciding to have an abortion is always a complex and nuanced decision.

On the other hand, if parents decide to continue with the pregnancy despite not achieving their desired gender, it raises questions about how they might treat the child differently. It is challenging to understand the emotional burden individuals may face upon discovering that their parents had a strong desire for a child of another gender, to the extent that they were willing to invest a significant amount of money in it.

Furthermore, if one gender were to become significantly more popular than the other, it would decrease genetic diversity and lead to a higher occurrence of recessively expressed diseases. This would also hinder our species’ ability to adapt to a changing environment. Taking into account all factors and potential consequences, I would opt for permitting and promoting the utilization of sperm sorting for the purpose of preventing genetic defects. However, in all other situations, I think it should be prohibited.

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Preconception Gender Selection: Ethical or Unethical?. (2016, Aug 27). Retrieved from

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