Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi poses the question today: “Would you pick the gender of your child if the technology was available?”
Dave’s question may be slightly premature for most of us, but not because the technology doesn’t exist.
For more than a decade Fort Collins-based XY Inc. has been assisting in the conception of a wide array of sex-selected cattle and horses. More recently the company’s patented sperm-sorting technology has been applied to cats and dogs, dolphins, elk and even water buffalo.
This month the company announced the birth of the world’s first dogs to have their sex selected prior to conception. The resulting litter of black Labrador puppies — three female and two male — was a partly successful effort to produce more females, which are preferred over males for service-dog work because of their intelligence and calm temperament.
The mixed litter shows the current limits to XY’s technology, which can significantly increase the odds of a specific gender being conceived, but does not offer a 100% success rate. Yet the company typically guarantees at least a 90% accuracy rate in cattle and horses, where the technology has been rigorously field-tested in breeding for many years.
XY — which began in 1996 as a joint venture between Cytomation Inc., and Colorado State University — describes itself as the global leader in sex-selection technology for “non-human mammals.” Other vendors, however, are plunging ahead into the tricky field of human sex-selection for profit.
As Harshanyi notes, numerous fertility clinics in Colorado and elsewhere already offer gender-selection services, which mainly rely on selecting embryos with the desired gender during in-vitro fertilization. Sperm-sorting technology, at least theoretically, does away with the need to destroy viable embryos, by assuring that only sperm with the desired gender traits are given a chance to procreate.
Human sex-selection opens a Pandora’s box of ethical and legal issues, which for reasons of time and space I won’t try to sort through now. For a a look at some of the ongoing debate, check out Jennifer Lahl’s recent post about the “Top Ten Objections to Sex Selection” at The Human Future blog, or the International Center for Technology Assessment’s assertion that “a new eugenics age” already has begun.
One thing’s for sure, though. Where there’s demand, a market is certain to follow. And many would-be parents appear eager to choose the gender of their offspring.
Companies such as The Fertility Clinics — with locations in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Mexico — advertise aggressively on the Internet and reportedly are attracting well-heeled customers from around the globe, who gladly pay $20,000 for in-vitro gender selection.
Sperm-sorting technology, still considered experimental by the FDA, reportedly costs $4,000 to $6,000, not including in vitro fertilization. The New York Times says that one Virginia clinic has produced more than 900 pregnancies, with a 91% success ratio for parents who wanted girls, and 76% for those who wanted boys.
So move over dogs, cats, horses and dolphins. Ready or not, the brave new world of human sex selection has now arrived. Can designer babies be far behind?