New tests analyzing fetal DNA found in a pregnant woman's blood can identify a fetus' sex as early as seven weeks into a pregnancy. As the New York Times reported:
The appeal of the test, which analyzes fetal DNA found in the mother's blood, is that it can establish sex weeks earlier than other options, like ultrasound, and is noninvasive, unlike amniocentesis and other procedures that carry small risks of miscarriage. The finding came in a study published online Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association. …
The journal study analyzed reams of research on fetal DNA tests — 57 studies involving about 6,500 pregnancies — and found that carefully conducted tests could determine sex with accuracy of 95 percent at 7 weeks to 99 percent at 20 weeks.
The study "has wide-reaching implications," said Dr. Louise Wilkins-Haug, director for maternal-fetal medicine and reproductive genetics at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who was not involved in the research. "Individuals need to be careful" to ensure that companies use rigorous laboratory procedures and support accuracy claims with data, she added.
One potential worry is that women might abort fetuses of an undesired sex. Several companies do not sell tests in China or India, where boys are prized over girls and fetuses found to be female have been aborted.
In response to the study, University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan asserts:
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.
But ending a pregnancy because you don't want a girl may be legal in the U.S., but that does not make it an ethical choice. 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.
Perhaps. But assuming that abortion remains legal, does that mean that such tests should be outlawed? Writing with refererence to using pre-implantation genetic selection of embryos, Oxford University bioethicist Julian Savulescu has warned:
The Nazis sought to interfere directly in people's reproductive decisions (by forcing them to be sterilized) to promote social ideals, particularly around racial superiority. Not offering selection for nondisease genes would indirectly interfere (by denying choice) to promote social ideals such as equality or 'population welfare.' There is no relevant difference between direct and indirect eugenics. The lesson we learned from eugenics is that society should be loath to interfere (directly and indirectly) in reproductive decisionmaking.
Savulescu's argument also applies in this case.