The Future of Unnatural Family Planning

|

A  prominent British fertility doctor says he has a way  to  reduce female infanticide and late-term abortions in the developing world: let parents choose gender. Where Indian and Chinese parents prefer boys, they'd be free to have them. As the number of girls decreases, their status would likely rise.

It's not a particularly realistic scenario, given that infanticide is driven in part by extreme poverty. People who find infant girls too economically burdensome to raise are highly unlikely to find themselves mulling expensive IVF treatments. But sex selection is getting cheaper and more common, and the technology is bound to collide with cultural assumptions and gender status in all sorts of unpredictable, and potentially positive, ways. And that's just one of many reasons to cheer on the coming of our designer baby overlords.

Advertisement

NEXT: Robert Altman, RIP

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. It’s not a particularly realistic scenario, given that infanticide is driven in part by extreme poverty. People who find infant girls too economically burdensome to raise are highly unlikely to find themselves mulling expensive IVF treatments

    I’m not sure about this. I mean, yes, parents who can’t afford the IVF treatment are still going to use the old fashioned method for family planning. However, if the procedure is simply allowed to be chosen, it might result in an (albeit small) reduction of infanticide which can’t be a bad thing. The reductions coming from people with borderline finances– those who may be just able to afford the procedure, or those who have it provided to them through some other mechanism. But make impossible to receive such a treatment, and you’ll probably see no change in statistics.

  2. 1. This decision should absolutely be up to the patient.

    2. That said, I don’t think being able to choose gender is going to improve the status of women in China and India. In her wonderful book Mother Nature my favorite trust-fund baby Sarah Blaffer Hrdy described the high-caste families of Utter Pradesh in India, known as the “Daughter Destroyers.” All girl babies born to these families were killed at birth. ALL of them. Therefore, all the wives were from lower-caste households. This, naturally, produced lots of highly-unpleasant consequences for the women involved. This procedure is likely to make it easier for high-caste families to return to their older practice but without actually killing someone and without interference from the authorities.

    The only way to improve the status of women in the third world is to get more cash in the hands of existing women. Sex-selection of embryos is so extraordinarily more humane than the typical practice that English words really can’t convey that magnitude, but it still isn’t going to do much for the women who do get born.

    Oh, and for the uniformed, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy is a scion of the founders of Exxon, who went on to become one of the world’s leading primatologists. You can call her the “Anti-Paris.” Richer by quite a bit than the Hilton sleeze, too.

  3. “The only way to improve the status of women in the third world is to get more cash in the hands of existing women.”

    True enough, but how is throwing the balance between men and woman completly out of whack and creating huge numbers of young men with little prospect of marrying going to help with that situation?

  4. True enough, but how is throwing the balance between men and woman completly out of whack and creating huge numbers of young men with little prospect of marrying going to help with that situation?

    It almost certainly won’t do anything. Still, I have to think that selecting embryos is orders of magnitude better than killing newborns and a huge improvement over the current system of ultrasound followed by abortions.

    [snark alert] If there were some way to make sure that only female doctors got hold of this technology, however, that would be a improvement.

  5. China already has a huge shortage of marriageable women in many places. Men go to other Asian Countries such as Vietnam, and have to pay a hefty price for a girl, then neither partner is happy with what they get. If you let everyone in India and China choose the gender, a generation later their will be an even greater shortage of girls.

  6. “Still, I have to think that selecting embryos is orders of magnitude better than killing newborns and a huge improvement over the current system of ultrasound followed by abortions.”

    But it encourages their fucked up cultures.

  7. That’s exactly my point, John. The existing culture stinks and needs to be reformed. This technology ameliorates some of the most repulsive expressions of their bad ideas, but it’s not going to change anything fundamental, despite the stated good intentions of the doctor in the article.

  8. As an Indian I’d like to point out that high caste doesn’t necessarily mean rich, haven’t read Hrdys book. On the contrary, caste is important in impoverished, rural areas, just like major parts of UP is. Rich people live in urbanized areas, like Dehli, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore.byw It sounds more than preposterous that ALL baby girls would be killed in any family, if that indeed where the case they would a) most likley be in jail b) there would hardly be any girls at all in UP. So anti-Paris or not, dumb as a box of hair seems to be appropriate.

  9. Bubli, I believe she was describing the tradition of infanticide, not necessarily the contemporary situation. She did say that girls were mistreated, though.

  10. Girls are mistreated, it’s a huge problem. As is gender selection. I am absolutely certain that gender selection and mistretment of girls/women happend among high caste families in rural India. It is indeed a huge problem. However, these highcaste families are hardly rich in the sense that a midlleclass family in an Indian city is. These families are rich because they own some cattle and a little bit of land, but it doesn’t mean that they could afford IVF-treatment. They would most likley not have a clue what it is. Let alone afford it.

  11. This is simply cultural Darwinism. If your culture has such a low opinion of females that you wind up with too few to keep your culture going, good riddance.

  12. This is simply cultural Darwinism. If your culture has such a low opinion of females that you wind up with too few to keep your culture going, good riddance.

    Jennifer, that was a culturally intolerant, callous, and brutally TRUE thing to say. Bravo from the peanut gallery.

  13. Selecting for males has the effect of reducing the replacement ratio, which in turn, reduces the overall birth rate long term and helps with population control.

    As has been pointed out earlier, this will increase the value of female children in the long run. It is debatable whether this will lead to the enhancement of the status of women. It could also turn out to make women to be considered even more as “property” than in the present situation.

    Finally, there is the probability that a society dominated by young males is going to be more agressive.

    I am not negating the right of people to make personal choices, but we should be aware that there will be consequences that go beyond the effect on population.

  14. This is simply cultural Darwinism. If your culture has such a low opinion of females that you wind up with too few to keep your culture going, good riddance.

    Took the words right out of my mouth, Jennifer! I was going to say basically the same thing.

    I am not negating the right of people to make personal choices, but we should be aware that there will be consequences that go beyond the effect on population.

    More multi-heritage babies! Yay.

  15. Anybody else flashing on The Rainbow Cadenza?

    Kevin

  16. I am not negating the right of people to make personal choices…

    How do you make a personal choice concerning someone else’s life; that is, the child’s?

  17. This is already happening, as has been pointed out, via ultrasound scan followed by termination. The consequences will probably not be

  18. smacky! Where have you been? I needed some Greek translated the other day, but you weren’t here to do it ?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.