Couples from countries that ban sex-selective in-vitro fertilization (IVF) have found a haven in clinics in the United States, where the practice is far less regulated.
In an article for Scotland’s Daily Record newspaper, Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg of The Fertility Institute said that five couples have travelled from Scotland to undergo the sex-selection procedure at his clinics in New York and Los Angeles, which have been described as the worldwide leaders in gender selection. The article notes that couples who “suffer from gender disappointment ” often remortgage their homes or take out other loans to afford the opportunity to control whether they have a boy or a girl, in a procedure known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). The procedure costs over $20,000.
As in all IVF, the procedure is made possible by the creation of several embryos, many of which are destroyed in the process of selection and implantation. In the case of gender selection, the tiny human lives that possess the correct gender are implanted, while all others are destroyed. For example, one account posted on the Fertility Institute website describes how “3 healthy female embryos and 7 healthy male embryos, along with 2 abnormal embryos” were produced for one couple seeking a girl. Two of the 12 embryos were implanted.
The clinic’s site notes that individuals have come from 147 different countries “seeking to balance their families or assure themselves that a pregnancy will result in ONLY the gender outcome they desire.”
Such gender selection is illegal in several countries, including the United Kingdom – a fact that Steinberg criticized as “so far behind” the hottest scientific trends.
But for Steinberg controlling for gender is only the beginning: he noted that the Vatican sent a letter to his clinic asking them to reconsider after they began investigating ways of selecting children’s eye and hair color. “The Vatican were very nice but were asking us to think about what we were doing. It’s on the backburner for now but it will be here in future,” said Steinberg.
The clinics’ website also boasts the “world’s only fully integrated gay surrogacy system” for male homosexual couples who want their own child, saying they are “dedicated to assuring that the complex route to gay parenthood is an anxiety free, joyful experience.” The site lists in-house legal and attorney services as among benefits provided to male homosexual couples.
As for PGD, given the gender bias that exists in several cultures – particularly towards the male gender – the power to control the gender of one’s children could have disastrous effects. Steinberg admits that “Asian countries clearly favor males” – a fact that, as noted by The Economist in March, has led to the disappearance of at least 100 million girls who were aborted for being the wrong sex.
This massive gender disparity presents, in the words of the Economist, “catastrophic” consequences: “In any country rootless young males spell trouble; in Asian societies, where marriage and children are the recognised routes into society, single men are almost like outlaws. Crime rates, bride trafficking, sexual violence, even female suicide rates are all rising and will rise further as the lopsided generations reach their maturity.”
But for Steinberg, the trepidation over the procedure is merely “intimidation” that will eventually be numbed by the steady march of science. “Somebody left a note on my car saying, ‘Test tube babies have no souls’. It was new. People were intimidated. Now, 30 years later, I go to a party and half the kids are IVF,” he said. “This is another footstep along that path.”