Is Sex-Selective IVF Harmless?


sex-selectionAussie boy: “Hey Ma, where are we going on vacation this year?”

Aussie mom: “We are doing something very special. We are going to circumvent the laws of our country and we are going to travel all the way to Thailand, stay in a fancy hotel for a week, and buy you a little sister!”

Aussie boy: “Good onya, Ma!”

If you are an Aussie couple dying to have a girl or boy, forget about the ban on sex-selective IVF and let Global Health Travel of Australia set it all up for you! Airfare, luxury accommodations and the child of your choice.

No joke. From

Global Health Travel is offering baby sex-selection trips to Thailand and Malaysia.

For $12,000, couples can spend 11 days in a luxury Bangkok hotel while they have IVF treatment to choose a baby boy or girl.

Cells are taken from the three-day-old embryo for gender screening, and a boy or girl is implanted before the pregnant woman flies home a few days later.

“Some people bring their whole family and make a holiday of it,” Global Health Travel managing director Cassandra Italia said yesterday.

Of course this “news” story comes at a time when there is tremendous pressure to repeal Australia’s ban on sex-selective IVF. At least Australia is reasonable enough to have a ban. Many couples come to the U.S. for sex-selective IVF because we are the wild west of reproductive technologies with nary a federal regulation.

But what is the harm with sex-selective IVF anyway? According to IVF practitioner Dr. Gab Kovacs:

“It doesn’t harm anybody else so there’s no reason it should be prohibited,” he said.

The reason I put “news” in quotes to describe this piece is because it is simply propaganda. Had Natasha Bita done any actual reporting she would have pointed out that this does actually harm somebody.

Many articles on sex-selective IVF make it sound like IVF docs magically only make embryos of a particular gender. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In reality, embryos of both sexes are mass-produced, cells are taken from them and tested to see which are the “right” gender. Any embryos that do not make the genetic cut are put in the deep freeze, tossed in the trash, or given to researchers to rip open.

But that doesn’t really matter when a couple is desperate for that little girl with pretty pigtails or that strapping young lad with a powerful swing. The perfect accessory to “complete” the family. A purchase worth making just like that family van or kitchen remodel. Harsh? Maybe, if a mother who purchased her daughter hadn’t said it first. Megan Simpson, who used sex-selective IVF to have a girl, recently told Slate:

“My husband and I stared at our daughter for that first year. She was worth every cent. Better than a new car, or a kitchen reno.”

So what about the chosen children that are lucky enough to be transferred to their mother’s womb and survive to birth? This doesn’t hurt them at all right?

Well, they had a biopsy performed on them when they were only days old. Studies in mice have shown this procedure called preimplantation genetic diagnosis or (PGD) has long term effects. From American Medical Network:

Ran Huo, Qi Zhou and colleagues used a mouse model to examine how a blastomere biopsy, as the key manipulation during the PGD procedure, could affect fetal, neonatal and adult development.

They found that there were no differences in embryo development prior to uterine implantation in the biopsied and control groups, which is consistent with results found in humans. However, following implantation, successful births from biopsied embryos were significantly lower than in controls.

Following birth, the authors tracked many physical and behavioral properties; the two groups of mice were similar in many respects, though mice in the biopsied group on average had higher body weight and poorer memory in maze tests. To get a more detailed picture of these memory defects, the authors performed a proteomic analysis of adult mouse brains; 36 proteins displayed significant differences between biopsied and control groups, 17 of which are closely associated with neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimers and Down Syndrome.

The authors suggest that the developing nervous system may be sensitive to blastomere biopsy, and that more studies should be performed to address any possible long-term adverse effects of PGD to ensure its safety.

These researchers are calling for more research into the safety of PGD because, in mice, a biopsy of the embryo caused lower birth rates and markers for neurological disorders.

In addition, the Fertility Authority “busts the myth” that PGD is no big deal. Dr. Michael Tucker, embryologist, calls PGD is an “invasive procedure…that should not be undertaken lightly.”

Lightly. What is lightly? It seems everything nowadays is serious enough to warrant experimentation on the next generation, including wanting a “balanced” family with both ballet shoes and footballs in the closet.

Of course even if everything goes right, is sex-selective IVF still harmless? Well, what happens if the boy you paid for doesn’t like sports? Or the girl you dropped several thousand on hates dolls and dresses?

As Marcy Darnovsky, from the progressive Center for Genetics and Society, astutely comments:

“It’s high-tech eugenics. If you’re going through the trouble and expense to select a child of a certain sex, you’re encouraging gender stereotypes that are damaging to women and girls. …What if you get a girl who wants to play basketball? You can’t send her back.”

Totally harmless.


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