By Lindsay Steele
Recently, pregnant model Chrissy Teigen received a lot of press attention for mentioning that she and her husband, singer John Legend, had chosen to implant a female embryo during their infertility-related In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatment. The doctor asked them if they had a gender preference, and though they would have been happy with either gender, Teigen admitted that she loved the idea of her husband fathering a little girl.
I heard about this while watching The View in my OB/Gyn’s office, of all places. I wasn’t aware that the medical industry had reached the point of being able to offer gender selection to parents. While it may seem like a personal decision at first blush, I worry that gender selection — if it becomes popular — could end up affecting more than just couples and their children.
On one hand, gender selection has the potential to increase demand for IVF. The Catholic Church opposes IVF in part because embryos are destroyed in the process. Up to this point, the reach of IVF has been primarily limited to couples having trouble conceiving or unable to conceive by natural means. The Center for Disease Control reports that about 1.5 percent of babies born in the U.S. in 2012 were conceived through IVF. Add the possibility of gender selection to the mix and it opens up the process to couples who do not have problems conceiving but have a strong preference for gender.
The biggest problem I see with gender selection, though, is its potential to cause global gender discrepancies.
God designed humans to produce statistically similar numbers of boys and girls. We’ve already seen what happens when humans try to mess with this formula, intentionally or unintentionally. Look at China, where, like many countries worldwide, there is a cultural preference for boys. When the country enacted a one-child-per-family rule, the ratio of males to females went from around 1:1 to about 6:5 today, according to The Guardian. Parents found ways to discard girls before birth through abortion or after birth through adoption. That way they could try again for a boy. Now, a crisis exists because there aren’t enough women in the country for the men to marry, among other issues. To deal with this, China formulated new laws that reduce gender-selection abortions. They’ve increased the number of children that citizens are legally allowed to have. Additionally, China now severely restricts international adoptions; girls now stay in the country and grow up in orphanages. Imagine how gender selection at conception could exacerbate the gender discrepancy in countries like this!
Even in our country, where cultural gender preference is minimal, it’s natural for expectant parents to dream about what their ideal family makeup might be. In the U.S., it seems that the “ideal family” consists of at least one boy and one girl. It’s assumed that a family is complete when they have children of both genders. Even if parents do not have gender preferences, but have a large brood of all boys or all girls, outsiders often assume the parents are disappointed and yearning for a child of the opposite sex. The parents are likely to be asked if they are going to “try again.”
People have personal reasons for having a preference, too. When I became pregnant in September, I hoped for a girl, simply because I’d grown up with a younger sister and knew what to expect. Frankly, the idea of having a boy scared me a little.
I think parents find that they love their children no matter what. Once I saw my son on the ultrasound, I fell in love with him and couldn’t wait to experience the challenge of raising a boy.
My question is this: if people had the choice to act on gender preferences, as in Chrissy Teigen’s case — would they?
Whether this technology will become widely accessible to the public — and not just to the rich — is yet to be determined. Babycenter.com reports the procedure costs an average of $20,000 per attempt. But I think it’s important to start a dialogue about the downside of a procedure which people may justify as a “personal decision.” As we’ve seen in China, millions of so-called personal decisions can lead to a major crisis.
(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)