I have been hearing for a while now about the science behind elective gender selection, so the fact that the process exists is not news to me. Even so, many of the details outlined in this piece
shocked me. Apparently, elective gender selection is becoming more and more popular in the New York area, due to clinics that offer the procedure on their menu of services. The procedure, which was originally developed to lessen the chances of parents who were carriers of certain chromosome-linked genetic disorders passing those disorders on to their children. I personally know a couple who have made use of the technology to prevent becoming pregnant with boys, to whom they would have a high chance of transmitting the always fatal x-chromosome-linked disease of Tay-Sachs, due to birth parents' positive positive carrier status. So obviously, this technology can be a huge blessing to families such as those, who (at last count) are B"H the proud parents of three beautiful girls.
But - this article is describing something far different. It outlines the increasing trend towards elective gender selection - performing these pricey procedures simply because parents-to-be desire a child of one gender or another (according to the article, usually girls), and don't like the 50-50 odds that doing things naturally present them:
These women want girls for pseudo-Steinem-like reasons, like bringing up “strong, independent” lasses. And they want girls for Betty Crocker reasons, like dressing them up, taking them to the ballet and having a playmate. And, either way, many want girls so they can have their own Mini-Me projections of themselves.
The practice is euphemistically called "family balancing", and seems to be on the rise. Some doctors only entertain parents' requests if they already have a child of a certain gender, others don't limit performing the procedure at all:
“We have a criteria, and that is that we don’t offer gender selection to a couple for the first time. They have to have one or the other gender of child. This assures that the natural balance between the sexes is not disturbed,” said Dr. Khatamee, the executive director of the Fertility Research Foundation.
But a few doctors don’t observe the one- or two-child rule anymore, and some couples are not in it for “balance.” Some just want a child of a certain gender, and they have always wanted that gender, and they want it with a feral, unflagging, Veruca Salt intensity.
Dr. Steinberg, for example, has no problem with gender selecting for first-time parents. “To some couples,” he said, “the drive to get the gender that they’re after is just as strong as the drive in fertile couples to make sure they don’t have a genetically abnormal baby.”
Wow. Hard to understand the motivation behind first-time parents having a strong enough preference for one gender over another that they spend thousands of dollars to nudge the process along. One can't help but feel like pretty soon, many of these Manhattan parents are going to be stopping at their local gender selection clinic for a designer baby - on the way to meeting their interior decorator to choose furniture for their baby-to-be's designer nursery. (I hope the baby's eyes and hair color match the bumper set and the bugaboo's
I was happy to read, at least, that the clinics do have some
standards for who they perform the procedure on:
And they do screen couples carefully to make sure those couples aren’t completely bonky, that they don’t have “unrealistic expectations,” as Dr. Steinberg put it.
“It’s funny—this week I turned down two people,” the fertility doctor said. “I had one couple that wanted triplet boys and nothing else. I mean, totally crazy. So we booted them. And I had another couple that was unhappy with a teenage daughter and wanted to have a new girl that would be better. So we booted them too.”
Dr. Steinberg added, “It was really weird.”
I would have to imagine it was a bit "weird" to have to mull the requests of a parent to trade up to a better model daughter than the one they were "unhappy with". But what a relief to know that the clinics' standards are so rigorous, isn't it?
One has to wonder how this trend toward designer babies is playing out in the epicenter of Orthodox Jewish materialism - my very own neck of the woods, the Five Towns, where designer everything seems to be the rule (well, almost
Interestingly, I have heard the discussion of gender selection brought up in the Orthodox community, by a friend with quite a few children, all of the same gender. Though she is perfectly happy with her children, and thankful for their good health, she is concerned about fulfilling the mitzvah of "Pru Urvu", the Torah commandment to be fruitful and multiply, which acording to Halacha is not fulfilled until a couple gives birth to at least one child of each gender. Her doctor mentioned one of the techniques described in the article, and she was musing as to whether it was a halachically acceptable procedure. The processes that entail gender selection do raise many halachic questions, though I have heard of specific rulings permitting it being given in a case of a health situation, such as the one mentioned above where both parents are carriers of a transmissible chromosome-linked disorder. I would tend to doubt, however, that a blanket Psak would be given allowing the procedure in the case of a family simply wanting to add to the mix, even if their goal is to fulfill Pru Urvu. I certainly can't imagine it being allowed for the express purpose of "family balance". Of course, I should add, that hasn't stopped parents out here from trying more low-tech techniques, such as I heard about in far too much detail in an incident I outlined here
Bottom line, I don't see designer babies becoming a new hot trend in my area, much as some moms might probably like the idea of putting one wearing the sweetest
little toddler-sized tankini, into their Britax carseat, in the backseat of their shiny SUV, and drive off to the beach club for the day. Designer babies just doesn't seem to me to be the next wave in accessories I see in the Five Towns trend forecast, as exciting as they sound. We'll just have to be content to lag behind Manhattan on this one.
Though one does
have to wonder if gender selection is the answer to solving another community crisis - the Shidduch crisis.