When model and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen openly admitted to having handpicked her daughter Luna's gender, she faced a lot of backlash for endorsing the controversial trend of sex selection for non-medical reasons.
What is Gender Selection?
Gender selection has been made possible in recent years through advances in fertility science and, specifically, in vitro fertilization. Currently, there are only two methods through which gender selection can be carried out; a) sperm sorting and b) Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), although the latter is more widely used owing to its near 100% accuracy.
MicroSort is a sperm sorting technology used in laboratories around the world that allows for preconception sex selection through a flow cytometry technique. Based on the X and Y chromosomal content sperm are separated and sorted from the seminal fluid in order to fertilize the egg.
Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis or PGD is normally conducted during an IVF cycle prior to embryo implantation in high-risk cases such as previous failed cycles, multiple miscarriages, or a history of genetic disorders. It is an elective procedure with a hefty price tag, making the already costly IVF treatment even more expensive.
What happens during PGD?
PGD is carried out as part of IVF procedures only, hence once the retrieved eggs are fertilized and reach the blastocyst stage, an embryologist performs a biopsy on the blastocyst embryos (typically containing 100-150 cells) removing about 2-10 cells. The removed cells from the embryo are then examined for genetic disorders, during which the gender of the embryo can also be determined. This entire process is highly specialized and can only be performed by certified embryologists ensuring that the embryo does not get affected in any way during cell removal.
As such, there's only a small percentage of people who can actually afford to opt for PGD and subsequently, gender selection, one reason why embryos resulting from this practice are sometimes nicknamed "designer babies."
The debate around designer babies is slightly controversial as celebrities such as Chrissy Teigen and Kim K, (also rumored to have selected the gender of her second son), openly admit to having opted for it. PGD, in essence, is done to examine the chromosomal structure for embryos, thereby eliminating the possibility of any genetic disorders being transferred to the embryo, however, as many medical experts point out, the technology opens up options for many intended parents to handpick and almost tailor the combination of traits being transferred to the unborn child, gender being one of them.
Some critics have even gone as far as analogizing this technique of gene manipulation to Hitler's idea of breeding a superior Aryan race based on the Nazi philosophy of racial purity. Although the comparison is undoubtedly extreme, opponents of the practice claim that technology is a slippery slope paving the way for obstructing the mechanism of natural selection.
There is of course general consensus on the fact that gene editing for disease eradication is harmless and in fact a boon for intended parents who have a history of genetic disorders, however, the extent to which these advances in fertility medicine are implemented is really a question of ethical practice which is subjective to individual preferences. In many countries, sex selection is illegal for fears of it resulting in a societal imbalance in terms of gender proportions. In the US, sex selection is a generally accepted practice, largely due to the fact that many intended parents opt for it in order to eliminate certain chromosomal and gender-specific disorders, such as muscular dystrophy and hemophilia that are passed on from the mother to male offsprings only.
Is sex selection for you?
The answer to that depends singularly on what your motivation is behind considering this option. If you're thinking of opting for it in order to eliminate chances of carrying forward a certain hereditary disorder, there shouldn't be any controversy surrounding it. If you are contemplating sex selection in order to balance out your family or just because you have a personal preference, it's better to research thoroughly and make a well-thought-out decision before taking the leap as PGD, the more accurate method has its fair share of risks involved.