This house believes parents should be able to choose the sex of their children

There are two relatively new technological methods of achieving the goal of embryonic gender selection, which has for so long been the stuff of science fiction. These are genetic diagnosis, in which embryos created in a test-tube are analysed before being implanted in the womb, and the MicroSort technique, in which sperm is 'sorted' to make it much more likely that the egg is fertilised by a sperm carrying the desired chromosome.

Generations of parents-to-be have hoped and prayed for a baby of a particular gender. Often in practice this has meant praying for a boy, as cultural factors such as restricting inheritance of property and the family name to male heirs, restrictions on female economic activity, and the heavy cost of dowries when daughters are married have all encouraged male preference throughout history. In some circumstances gender selection has been practised after birth by the abandonment of unwanted infants, a practice which has not entirely died out today in some countries. The development of ultrasound scanners which allow the sex of an unborn child to be determined in the womb has more recently led to selective abortion, especially in China where cultural factors combined with the single-child policy in the 1980s and 1990s to make many families determined to ensure their only child was male. Although ultrasound scanning for sexual selection is illegal, it is widespread in China and the 2000 Census revealed that 117 boys are now born for every 100 Chinese girls. Similar figures for India, although less reliable, also indicate widespread use of illegal ultrasound scanning and selective abortion of female foetuses. This topic does not focus upon or attempt to present arguments for selective abortion, but this does provide the context for a more recent and balanced debate - as to whether new methods for selecting the gender of a child at the start of a pregnancy should be allowed.

Title 
Gender selection will prevent incidents of infanticide
Point 

Some cultures place great importance on having at least one child of a particular gender. We can help realise this aim. We can prevent the trauma and stress of not having a child of a particular gender, which can have negative cultural connotations. If a state's population became seriously imbalanced, one might have to rethink: but given that most countries, including all in the West, have balanced populations, and given that many families in most countries will choose to have roughly as many of the other sex, this should not stop this proposal being put into effect in many countries. Even in China, the problem is largely due to the "one-child" policy which has been relaxed in many areas since the mid-1990s. Over time, a scarcity of one gender will in any case produce new pressures to rebalance the population, for example the paying of dowries may change, and women will achieve higher status.

Counterpoint 

This argument veils the likely result of the policy: reinforcement of already unhealthy cultural practices. Selective abortion has meant that gender imbalance in China and India is already very, very high – 914 girls for every 1,000 boys in India – demonstrating the likely result of such policies in some countries 1.

‘Parents choose to abort female foetuses not because they do not want or love their daughters, but because they feel they must have sons’ (usually for social reasons) 1. Even in western countries some minority groups' gender preferences may result in serious imbalances in some communities. These imbalances are socially harmful because in time many young men will be unable to find a partner; in China this is already linked to a rise in sexual violence, kidnapping and forced marriage, and prostitution.

1. The Economist. (2011, April 7). Add sugar and spice. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from The Economist: http://www.economist.com/node/18530101

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Title 
The private sector can provide parents, who can afford to and want to, with gender selection technologies
Point 

Gender selection technology should be available, at whatever cost the market dictates, to those who can afford the process and wish to choose the sex of their children. There should be no other restrictions on the couples wishing to go through with the process, other than an assurance that the mother is physically able and willing. As it is not an essential procedure, the state should not be expected to subsidize either the process or the development of the technology. Nevertheless, the private sector should be encouraged to develop the technology and continue to provide the public with a path to maximise their own happiness.

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Counterpoint 

A medical procedure is not a product that should be excluded from those who cannot afford it. Either it is beneficial enough to be subsidized by the state and therefore available to all, or it is the start of a slippery slope towards designer babies and therefore should not be available to anyone. Furthermore, the investment and expertise required to develop such technology are resources that should be utilized for causes that are far more important, under-funded and under-developed than gender selection. To allow the private sector to provide such a gender selection service would not only encourage further investment in a unnecessary technology but tempt medical professionals away from their government-funded research with the promise of more money.

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Title 
Parents should have freedom of choice
Point 

People should have freedom of choice. Why shouldn’t would-be parents be able to do this, given that no harm is done to others by their decision? Article 16 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: "Men and women of full age… have the right to marry and to found a family" and this right should be understood to cover the right to make decisions over how that family should be formed 1.When a family have a large number of boys or girls, why should they be deprived of the opportunity to have a child of a different gender if the technology exists? As the Director of the Fertility Institute notes, ‘these are grown-up people expressing their reproductive choices…(they) are really happy when they get what they want’ 2. 

1. U.N. General Assembly. (1948, December 10). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from United Nations: http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml<br>

2. Stein, R. (2004, December 14). A Boy for You, a Girl for Me: Technology Allows Choice.Retrieved May 20, 2011, from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62067-2004Dec13.html

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Counterpoint 

Freedom of choice is an important principle generally, but it should not be granted at the expense of unconditional love for one’s children. The pre-selection of gender ‘is a threat to the core value of parenthood that is usually expressed by the commitment to unconditional love’, according to a Georgetown professor 1. Children should not be loved because of who they are, not because they are exactly what we wanted of them. As Harvard professor Michael Sandel notes, ‘consider the father who wants a boy in hope of having as a son the athlete he had never been. Suppose the son isn’t interested in sports…what sorts of expectations will burden a child who has designed with certain purposes in mind?’ 1. For that reason, parents should not be permitted freedom of choice in this regard, but encouraged to love their child equally, regardless of gender.

1. Stein, R. (2004, December 14). A Boy for You, a Girl for Me: Technology Allows Choice.Retrieved May 20, 2011, from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62067-2004Dec13.html

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Title 
Sex-specific, generic diseases can be avoided
Point 

Some parents are carriers of known sex-specific diseases. It is obviously in the child's interests that they don't have such a condition. Determining its gender can ensure that. Many families have predispositions towards certain common conditions that are more likely in one gender in another, and these can be avoided too. Nearly all neurodevelopmental diseases are either more common in one gender or more severe among one gender. Arthritis, heart disease and even lung cancer also seem to be influenced by a person's gender. Males disproportionately suffer from X chromosome problems because their body has no copy to fall back on 1 These range in nature from baldness and colour blindness to muscular dystrophy and haemophilia. Women are disproportionately affected by diseases of the immune system 2. Genetic modification is not the only technology available. The MicroSort technique uses a 'sperm-sifting' machine to detect the minute difference between y and double x chromosome-carrying sperm: no genetic harm results from its use. Over 1200 babies have been born using the technology 3.

1. Macnair, D. T. (2010, August). Fragile X Syndrome. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from BBC Health: http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/physical_health/conditions/fragilex1.shtml
2. Doe, J. (2000, December 18). Immune System Disorders. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from Time: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,92261,00.html
3. Genetics and IVF Institute. (2008, January 1). Microsort. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from Genetics and IVF Institute: http://www.microsort.net/results.php

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Counterpoint 

Sex-specific, generic diseases are only avoided a majority of the time, the process is not near 100% accurate and therefore the medical benefits cannot be used without considering of the medical costs. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis involves the development of embryos outside the womb, which are then tested for gender. One or two of the desired gender are then implanted in the womb. Those that are not of the desired gender, or are surplus to requirements are destroyed (typically, over a dozen embryos are used to select a single one to be implanted). A human life has been created with the express purpose of being destroyed. This is another form of abortion – only the conception is deliberate. Ultimately, it will be these technologies and not MicroSort that is used, since whilst the latter has a 93% accuracy rate if a girl is desired (itself a lower result than genetic diagnosis), its accuracy falls to 82% for boys, and the vast majority of selections will inevitably be for males 1 . Thus, given that they are so keen to have a child of a particular gender and so unwilling to risk having one of the other gender, parents will not risk using MicroSort. Even if they do choose it, whilst there have not been overt problems thus far, scientific experts like Lord Winston express the fear that the process damages sperm, making genetic mutation much more likely. Both techniques are therefore to be condemned.

1. Genetics and IVF Institute. (2008, January 1). Microsort. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from Genetics and IVF Institute: http://www.microsort.net/results.php

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Title 
Pre-selection of gender uses expensive medical care for frivolous purposes
Point 

The treatment required for the pre-selection of gender was initially designed for the prevention of disease. Many of the patients now using the revolutionary new treatment are perfectly capable of conceiving healthy children naturally. Dr. Mark Hughes, a director the Genesis Genetics institute, says that 70% of patients wouldn't have needed IVF in the first place, meaning 'healthy, fertile couples are choosing this higher risk, expensive, sometimes painful process when they could conceive otherwise' 1.

1. Gajilan, C. (2005, November 17). Gender selection a reality, but is it ethical? Retrieved May 20, 2011, from CNN Health: http://articles.cnn.com/2005-11-16/health/pdg.gender.selection_1_pgd-spe...

Counterpoint 

It is for the individuals to decide whether this treatment is worth the expense. The anecdotal evidence from parents who have gone through the process suggests that pre-selecting the sex of their children was not a ‘frivolous purpose’. Asked whether her three boys had not been enough, Sharla Allen replied ‘They are. They’re totally everything I could ever want…but why not have two daughters that will be just as wonderful as they are?’ 1. No-one is harmed in this process, the parents know the risks beforehand and it should be their prerogative to have the treatment.

1. Gajilan, C. (2005, November 17). Gender selection a reality, but is it ethical? Retrieved May 20, 2011, from CNN Health: http://articles.cnn.com/2005-11-16/health/pdg.gender.selection_1_pgd-spe...

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Title 
Children should not be designed to specifications
Point 

Children are not toys. They are not meant to be designed to specifications most convenient to the ‘owner’. ‘It runs the risk of turning procreation and parenting into an extension of the consumer society’ argues Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel 1. If we allow parents to choose gender, soon some will want to choose eye colour, or hair colour. That is only the beginning. We are, in allowing this, encouraging false ideas of ‘perfection’ – damning those that don’t look a certain way. Furthermore, since of course there’s no justification for allowing such indulgence at public expense, the divide will grow ever-larger between rich and poor, as the rich tailor not only their clothes and belongings to reflect their wealth, but also the bodies of their children. If a "gay gene" is discovered, would parents be permitted to weed out embryos with it, using the technology this proposal would condone? We really should be encouraging the idea that when it comes to children, you get what you are given – otherwise, people be more and more likely to reject their own child when they don’t get exactly what they want…

1. Stein, R. (2004, December 14). A Boy for You, a Girl for Me: Technology Allows Choice.Retrieved May 20, 2011, from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62067-2004Dec13.html

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Counterpoint 

Parents have every right, if the technology is present, to choose the gender make-up of their family. Guaranteeing (or improving the chances of) a child being of the gender they want means that the child is more likely to fit into the family's dreams. He or she is, bluntly, more likely to be loved. Talk of designer babies is scaremongering nonsense. 'All babies are, to some extent, designed. Individuals do not procreate randomly: they choose their partners, and often choose the time of conception according to their own age and prosperity' 1. Parents give so much to children. They invest years of their lives and a large amount of their earnings in their upbringing. Isn't it fair that in return, they get to decide something like this if they want to? This is an extension of reproductive rights.

1. Meek, J. (2001, July 5). Baby Blues. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2001/jul/05/genetics

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Title 
The lottery of childbirth should not be interfered with
Point 

Having a child is a process of wonder and awe. These proposals make having children to something more like pre-ordering a car. To many people the moment of conception is the start of life, touched by God and not to be interfered with or abused out of selfish human motives. Dr. Mark Hughes, who helped pioneer the procedure, intended it to be used to prevent disease and 'your gender is not a disease, last time I checked. There's no suffering. There's no illness. And I don't think doctors have any business being there' 1.Furthermore, In the view of many, the new technologies are not morally different from abortion - in all cases a potential life is taken. These new technologies are likely to make selective abortion more common, as if they are legalised they will appear to legitimise throwing away a human life simply because the parents would prefer a specific gender.

1. Leung, R. (2004, April 11). Choose the Sex of Your Baby. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/04/13/60II/main611618.shtml

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Counterpoint 

It is hardly shattering the mystery of childbirth, given how common ultrasound scans are. Sharla Miller, who went through gender selection, refutes the suggesting it is like playing God, arguing 'it's just like every other procedure the medical field can do for you. When our eldest child had spina bifida, they fixed that. Were they playing God?' 1. Moreover, knowing what gender a child will be is tremendously helpful for parents in planning for the future (picking clothes, colour schemes, toys, names etc.). Why not extend that ability to plan? Moreover, in many countries and cultures gender selection happens already, usually by selective abortion or abandonment of unwanted babies. Everyone can agree that this is a terrible waste of life and potentially very dangerous for the mother concerned, and of course many people object strongly to abortion on moral grounds. The use of new technologies to allow gender selection at the start of pregnancy will reduce and hopefully eventually end the use of selective abortion.

1. Leung, R. (2004, April 11). Choose the Sex of Your Baby. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/04/13/60II/main611618.shtml

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Bibliography 

Doe, J. (2000, December 18). Immune System Disorders. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from Time: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,92261,00.html
Gajilan, C. (2005, November 17). Gender selection a reality, but is it ethical? Retrieved May 20, 2011, from CNN Health: http://articles.cnn.com/2005-11-16/health/pdg.gender.selection_1_pgd-spe...
Genetics and IVF Institute. (2008, January 1). Microsort. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from Genetics and IVF Institute: http://www.microsort.net/results.php
Leung, R. (2004, April 11). Choose the Sex of Your Baby. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/04/13/60II/main611618.shtml
Macnair, D. T. (2010, August). Fragile X Syndrome. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from BBC Health: http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/physical_health/conditions/fragilex1.shtml
Meek, J. (2001, July 5). Baby Blues. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2001/jul/05/genetics
Stein, R. (2004, December 14). A Boy for You, a Girl for Me: Technology Allows Choice. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62067-2004Dec13.html
The Economist. (2011, April 7). Add sugar and spice. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from THe Economist: http://www.economist.com/node/18530101
U.N. General Assembly. (1948, December 10). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from United Nations: http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml

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