Medical advances in prenatal care offer several ways for doctors to gain knowledge about babies in uteri. Prenatal diagnoses and screening procedures such as amniocentesis, chorionic villis sampling, ultrasounds, and preimplantation genetic diagnosis provide accurate ways for doctors to detect genetic and chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus.
These procedures are also accurate in revealing the sex of a fetus in the early stages of pregnancy. Many parents-to-be take advantage of the technology available today to gain a clearer picture of who their child may be. Yet, along with the clear benefits to doctors and couples who take advantage of these procedures early in a pregnancy, there has recently been some controversy surrounding the potential consequences of disclosing to some parents the sex of their baby early in pregnancy.
The subject of female feticide, common practice in some countries and noticeable in others, recently gained more attention in the news with an article published in January 2012, in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The former interim editor of the journal, Dr. Rajendra Kale, writes that the issue of aborting female fetuses cannot be ignored despite it being a small problem found amongst minority ethnic groups in Canada. “Small numbers cannot be ignored when the issue is about discrimination against women in its most extreme form.”
Dr. Kale’s research discloses evidence of sex selection amongst minority groups in Canada and The United States. The existence of sex selection for couples with a preference for boys may create a skew in gender imbalance and accompanying undesirable consequences.
In an effort to prevent gender-based abortions, Dr. Rajendra Kale recommends that doctors disclose a baby’s gender to an expecting mother after about 30 weeks. Typically women learn the sex of their unborn child somewhere between 17-22 weeks, at a time when in some countries there isn’t a legal limit on when an abortion can be performed. “ A pregnant woman being told the sex of the fetus at ultrasonography at a time when an unquestioned abortion is possible is the starting point of female feticide from a health care perspective.”
His editorial article suggesting health professionals adopt new policies regarding the disclosure of medical information to some parents-to-be opens up discussion about medical ethics and patients’ reproductive rights. Should a doctor tell you the sex of your baby? Should a physician withhold information from a patient?
Questions related to this controversial topic of sex selection abortions and medical ethics easily lead to discussions of other practices in the field of sex selection.
Gender tests and sex selection procedures (for non medical reasons) are available in early stages of a pregnancy. At as early as seven weeks DNA blood testing which analyzes fetal DNA in the mother’s blood can be done to determine the sex of a fetus with a high accuracy rate.
Preimplantation genetic profiling allows for prenatal sex discernment before implantation. Although the primary purpose of PGD is to screen embryos to avoid a pregnancy with a fetus of chromosomal or genetic abnormality, it has become an option for IVF patients interested in family balancing.
To learn more about topics related to sex selection and infertility find a certified doctor near you.
Rajendra Kale "It's a girl!" -could be a death sentence CMAJ January 16, 2012.
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