A new study out this week reported promising results in using a mother’s blood sample to determine the sex of a fetus as early as seven weeks after conception. The findings, reported this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, show 75 percent accuracy at seven weeks and 99 percent accuracy at 20 weeks. Ultrasounds aren’t considered reliable until the mother is at least 12 weeks along, and some doctors won’t make a call one way or the other before 18 weeks. And even then there can be mistakes.
As NPR reports, while maternal blood testing has been used in Europe for years, such tests have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, so they’re not available in the US—yet.
It begs the question: If you could find out your baby’s sex sooner, would you? For seriously Type A moms-to-be, finding out sooner could be a huge stress relief. But the issue raises some bioethical questions, too: Might such a test increase abortion rates if parents find out they’re having a girl, say, when they’d really wanted a boy? Or what about families with histories of genetic disorders? If expectant parents are facing a disease that’s passed down through one gender or another, might they want—or need—to know the sex of their child sooner?
Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, weighs in on MSNBC.com with some colorful commentary on the matter:
“There are certainly some Americans who have a keen interest in knowing the gender of their baby because they want a baby of a particular gender. …Should genetic testing — in combination with abortion — purely for sex selection be part of medicine? Is it ethical to end a pregnancy because you don’t want a girl? The answer to both questions is ‘no.’ Being male or female is not a disease or a disorder. Wanting a boy is a preference, but it is not one that justifies ending a pregnancy. …As hard as it may be for some people to comprehend, there can be good and bad reasons to end a pregnancy. Gender preference is a bad reason.”
What do you think? Do the benefits of earlier gender testing outweigh the drawbacks? Or is the issue too ethically murky? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.